Coach Charley Toomey did what he could, but there was no way to keep the Loyola men's lacrosse team out of the loop.
With some of the Greyhounds aware of No. 13 Massachusetts' upset loss to Georgetown earlier in the day, No. 19 Loyola scored five of the game's first six goals against visiting Fairfield en route to a 12-7 thumping in a key Eastern College Athletic Conference game before an announced 2,104 at Diane Geppi-Aikens Field on Saturday.
Attackman Shane Koppens had three goals and two assists, and linemate Collin Finnerty posted his own hat trick and an assist as the Greyhounds improved to 8-4 overall and 5-1 in the ECAC.
Coupled with the Minutemen's 10-7 loss to the Hoyas, Loyola's victory vaulted the team a half game ahead of Massachusetts (7-4, 4-1) in the conference. (Because the league does not hold a conference tournament, the team with the best regular-season mark is crowned champion and gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.)
Toomey said he and his staff tried to keep the result from the players, but P.T. Ricci said he and several teammates knew before the contest against the Stags.
"We were getting updates in the locker room," the senior long-stick midfielder said. "We knew the league was pretty open after that. So we went out there to take care of business."
The Greyhounds seemed to open the game with a generous amount of energy, taking a 5-1 lead at the end of the first quarter. Fairfield trimmed the deficit to two three times. The Stags pulled within 7-5 after midfielder Chris Ajemian scored on an extra-man opportunity with 7:33 left in the third quarter.
But Loyola responded, scoring five unanswered goals to extend the lead to 12-5 with 2:10 left in the contest. Koppens scored twice in the Greyhounds' run to put the game out of reach.
Loyola outshot Fairfield 42-29, including 23-15 in the second half. Finnerty said the offensive game plan involved taking advantage of the Stags' quick slides on defense.
"It's all about ball movement," said Finnerty, who scored all three of his goals in the first half. "Once they slide, you just need two or three passes to get to that back side. There should be a shot or at least a good time to go one-on-one with somebody there."
Greyhounds sophomore goalkeeper Jake Hagelin (nine saves) made eight fewer stops than Fairfield freshman Charlie Cipriano, but the Stags put just 16 shots on net.
"I felt like we came back [after halftime] and played good, solid defense in front of Jake and gave him a chance to make some 12-yard saves again," Toomey said. "I thought our kids battled and really dug in and got better defensively today."
Fairfield (6-5, 3-2) was led by Ajemian's two goals.
Because Massachusetts owns a head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of an 8-6 win over the Greyhounds on March 21, Loyola must beat Hobart on Saturday and hope the Minutemen lose to Fairfield on Tuesday or Rutgers on May 2 to hold off Massachusetts for its second consecutive title.