The Loyola men’s basketball team made history this past winter when it qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years. With its 10-9 decision over Denver Saturday, the men’s lacrosse team advanced to its first Final Four since 1998. But junior long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff said the players and coaches aren’t content now.
“We have a little higher expectation than just making the tournament,” he said. “I think we knew from the very beginning this fall how much we had in this locker room and that we had a good shot to get this program back to the Final Four.”
The top-seeded Greyhounds (16-1) will play either No. 4 seed Notre Dame (12-2) or No. 5 seed Virginia (12-3) in a national semifinal on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. But for at least an evening and much of Sunday, they will enjoy the feeling that only Maryland – which upended No. 2 seed Johns Hopkins, 11-5, in Saturday’s other quarterfinal at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis – and two other teams will experience after this weekend.
For coach Charley Toomey, the achievement is especially magical. He was the starting goalkeeper of the 1990 Loyola squad that fell to Gary and Paul Gait and the rest of that Syracuse team in the NCAA title game that year. Now he gets to guide the Greyhounds into championship weekend.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Toomey said. “I can remember when ESPN got in my mug right after the game and [said], ‘You’re a player that took the team to the Final Four and now you’re a coach. What does it feel like?’ My next question was, ‘Well, are the Gaits there?’ It’s a special feeling. It’s a special feeling for the university. I’m just so proud of these guys because that’s never been a part of our conversation. It’s always been about hard work and preparation and understanding your opponent.”
For the seven seniors and one graduate student (attackman Eric Lusby), Saturday’s win gives them one more week to spend with their teammates and gets them one step closer to the ultimate prize.
But senior faceoff specialist J.P. Dalton said he wasn’t trying to put too much significance on reaching the Final Four.
“I think we’re just really happy we get to go to practice on Monday,” he said. “I think that’s probably the biggest thrill for us. I’m a senior, Eric’s a senior, we have a couple other guys where this is our last hurrah. We’re not looking too far to the next game. We’ll address that when we have to. We’re just really happy that we’re not going home right now.”
*Denver’s best opportunity to tie the score and send the contest into overtime was denied when freshman midfielder Wes Berg’s shot with 66 seconds left in regulation near the left side of crease struck the Greyhounds’ Jack Runkel in the chest. It was the sophomore goalkeeper’s 11th save of the game and perhaps the most significant one of his young career. But Runkel downplayed the immensity of the moment. “It’s the same for everybody,” he said. “It’s just one more stop. You get one more stop where you can get it out to the offense and they’re going to kill time. So we knew that with two minutes left, we needed two more stops. One save was good enough.” Pioneers coach Bill Tierney said Berg was taking the missed chance hard. “He’s very distraught right now,” Tierney said. “… He’s not feeling real good right now.”
*Dalton’s 17-of-22 performance on faceoffs against the Pioneers proved huge for Loyola, but he collected just three groundballs. It appeared that Dalton’s objective was to tie up junior Chase Carraro long enough to squirt the ball to an open spot where junior short-stick defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins (a team-best six groundballs) and junior long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff (5) would scoop up the loose balls. It was an effective strategy against Carraro, who had won 21-of-25 draws in his first meeting with the Greyhounds and 22-of-30 faceoffs in Denver’s 16-14 upset of No. 8 seed North Carolina in the first round. “We wanted to make it a 50-50 groundball,” Dalton said. “… It’s really up to my wings. I’m very confident that when I get the ball under my stick, I can throw it out to either one of them.” Added Toomey: “We know what we’ve got coming off the wings. They are very athletic and are groundball hawks. J.P. answered the bell today for us. As J.P. said, we expected to have some success because we started to in our last game with Denver. But I don’t think any of us expected to have the success that we had today. He was a beast out there for us.”