Loyola University Maryland will host the Patriot League Championship Game at Ridley Athletic Complex, on Sunday, April 27.
The top-seeded Greyhounds will play third-seeded Lehigh University at 1 p.m.
Lehigh edged No. 2 seed the U.S. Military Academy, 12-11, and Loyola topped No. 4 seed Colgate University, 12-6, in Friday’s semifinals.
Loyola went 8-0 to win the Patriot League Regular-Season title and earn the right to host the Patriot League Championships.
The Greyhounds are looking for their second conference tournament title in three years. They also won the 2012 ECAC Lacrosse League Championship.
Joe Fletcher leads all close defenders nationally in ground balls (66) and ground balls per game (4.71).
Pat Laconi is tops among NCAA Division I non-pole players in caused turnovers (27) and caused turnovers per game (1.93).
Justin Ward and Nikko Pontrello entered the week ranked second and third in assists and goals per game, respectively, in the NCAA. After the Colgate game, their averages are 3.21 and 3.14.
Last Time Out
Loyola used two 3-0 runs and a 4-0 run to take control of Friday’s Patriot League Semifinal against Colgate University, as the Greyhounds defeated the Raiders, 12-6.
Brian Schultz scored four goals and assisted on another, and Justin Ward matched his team-high five points with two goals and three assists.
Colgate’s Cameron Williams scored his first of two goals with 1:31 left in the third quarter to send the teams into the second frame with Loyola in front, 3-2.
Schultz, however, scored his first goal 38 seconds into the second quarter, and Nikko Pontrello added a goal at 4:21. Schultz then tallied his second of the quarter with 3:06 left in the half, and Loyola led 6-2 at halftime.
After a 38-minute lightning delay early in the third quarter, Schultz capped the 4-0 run with a goal at 5:22 left in the third.
The Raiders got two goals within 61 seconds of each other to close the third, but Ward, Ryan Fournier and Schultz scored for a 3-0 fourth-quarter run that put the game out of reach.
Joe Fletcher tied his career-high with five caused turnovers in the contest.
Turn On The Television
All three games in the Patriot League Championships will be broadcast live, nationally on CBS Sports Network. Dave Ryan will call the play-by-play, and Evan Washburn will handle the analysis of the action.
The game is one of six that will feature the Greyhounds on the network. The entire Patriot League Championships, as well as game against Johns Hopkins University on May 3 will be broadcast live. Loyola’s games versus Duke University, at Georgetown University and against Bucknell University were also on the network.
In The Polls
With last Thursday’s win against Bucknell, Loyola remained in the No. 1 spot of both the USILA coaches and Warrior/Inside Lacrosse media polls for the fifth week in a row.
The Greyhounds have been ranked No. 1 at some point in each of the last three seasons. This stretch is the longest Loyola has been ranked first since spending nine-straight at the top from March 15-May 10, 1999.
Loyola and Lehigh will meet for the ninth time on the lacrosse field when the teams take the field Saturday.
Prior to the teams’ regular-season meeting at Lehigh on March 1, the Greyhounds, who are 8-0 all-time against the Mountain Hawks, last played Lehigh on April 15, 1998. Loyola won that game 20-2 at Curley Field in a season which the Greyhounds would reach the NCAA Semifinals.
In the teams’ regular-season game, Kevin Ryan scored a career-high five goals, and Jack Runkel made 13 saves. The Mountain Hawks tied the score, 3-3, with two goals late in the first quarter, but Loyola outscored them 4-0 in the second as part of an 8-1 run that covered both halves.
Three Loyola players earned individual awards on Monday when the Patriot League honors were announced. Joe Fletcher was named Defensive Player of the Year, Jack Runkel Goalkeeper of the Year and Justin Ward Offensive Player of the Year.
Since Charley Toomey became head coach at Loyola in 2006, the Greyhounds have scored 10 or more goals on 67 occasions. After defeating Colgate, 12-6, on Friday, Loyola has won 82.1 percent of those games (55-12).
Loyola has the best winning percentage in NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse since the start of the 2012 season. The Greyhounds are 42-7 during that stretch (18-1 in 2012, 11-5 in 2013 and 13-1 this season) for a .857 mark. Loyola’s winning percentage of .928 this season is the best nationally.
Only Duke has won more games (43) than Loyola during the run, but the Blue Devils are second to the Greyhounds in winning percentage nine percent (43-13, .767).
A pair of Greyhounds attackers are near the top of two offensive categories through games of Friday, April 25, in both total goals and assists. Nikko Pontrello is third in Division I with 44 goals, while Justin Ward is second with 45 assists.
The duo is the No. 2 point-scoring tandem in the country with 114 combined points (Ward, 60; Pontrello, 54). Albany’s Lyle (88) and Miles (85) have a combined 173.
Tops Among Close Defenders
Joe Fletcher not only leads Loyola in ground balls, total (66) and per game (4.71), this season, but more impressive than that, he paces all close defenders nationally in the categories. Fletcher is 46th overall in ground balls per game, while the 45 players who are ahead of him are either face-off specialists or long-stick midfielders who play on the wings during restarts.
And Short-Sticks, Too
Meanwhile, Pat Laconi leads all non-pole defenders nationally in caused turnovers and caused turnovers per game. With a career-high five against Bucknell, he has caused 27 this season while averaging 1.98 per game. He entered the Patriot League Championships eighth in the nation, and the seven players ahead of him in the rankings are all long-stick midfielders or close defenders.
Justin Ward has continued to be the quarterback of the Greyhounds’ offense this year, passing out 45 assists in 14 games. With his third and final assist on April 12 against Boston University, Ward passed Sean Heffernan for first-place in school single-season history at the Division I level.
He is second in the nation in total assists (45), and he is also second in the country, and tops in the Patriot League, with 3.21 assists per game this year. The 45 assists are tied for second in Patriot League history, three shy of matching Bucknell’s David Dickson’s record of 48 from a year ago.
With four assists against Duke on March 9, Ward set Loyola’s career Division I record (since 1982) in total assists, eclipsing the mark of 83 set from 1989-92 by Jim Blanding. His three at Colgate gave him 100 for his career, making him the second player in program history ever to reach the century mark.
Ward now has 112 career assists. Gary Hanley holds the all-time Loyola record with 160 assists. Ward is also sixth in school Division I history in total points with 166, 14 away from tying Gewas Schindler (1996-99) for fifth place. His 60 points this season are tied for seventh in school single-season history.
Ward is in his third year as a starter on attack for the Greyhound after earning USILA All-America Honorable Mention last year after finishing tops on the team in points (62) and assists (35) and second in goals (27). His 62 points ranked tied for fifth in school single-season Division I history, and his 35 assists check in at third on that list.
Pontrello Putting Up Points
Nikko Pontrello was held without a goal for the first time this season on April 5 against Navy, snapping a streak of 10-straight games to start the season that Pontrello had two or more goals. He rebounded, however, with three goals and two assists versus Boston University and three goals and an assist versus Bucknell. Through games of Friday, April 25, Pontrello is third in the nation in total goals with 44.
He scored two in the season-opener at Virginia and then had three each against Penn State and Towson before scoring a career-high six goals at Holy Cross. He then tallied four at Lehigh, five against Duke, three at Georgetown, five versus Lafayette and three against Colgate, Boston University and Bucknell. He has now scored two or more in 12 of 14 games this year.
Two of his goals have been game-winners in one-goal contests. Pontrello scored 19 seconds into overtime to give Loyola a 12-11 win at Penn State, and he then tallied one with 51.4 seconds left in regulation to push the Greyhounds past Georgetown, 10-9.
Pontrello’s 44 goals this season rank fifth in school single-season history, one shy of tying Kevin Beach’s 1993 total for fourth.
After opening the season with a .214 save percentage in the opener at Virginia, Jack Runkel has played to a .647 mark, saving 143 out of 221 shots on goal he’s faced. In a six-game stretch against Towson, Holy Cross, Lehigh, Duke and Army, Runkel made 61 saves and allowed just 26 goals (.701).
The senior goalkeeper earned a record five Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Week honors this year and was named the conference’s Goalkeeper of the Year. He has a goals against average of 6.80 this season and a cumulative saves percentage of .621 through 14 games. He is second in the nation in saves percentage and third in goals against average.
In three years as a starter for the Greyhounds, Runkel has a 7.63 goals against average and .569 saves percentage. Runkel’s record between the pipes is 40-6. He is second in wins among active goalkeepers, trailing only Maryland’s Niko Amato who has 43 victories. Amato, however, is a four-year starter, while Runkel did not start until early in his sophomore season.
Fletch, White And Blue
Senior defender Joe Fletcher was the lone current collegiate player selected as part of one of 52 players who made up the United States Men’s National Team training roster this fall, and the day before Loyola’s season-opener, he found out he is one of 30 players who made the cut for the team that will compete at the 2014 World Cup in Denver.
He later had seven ground balls and causing a turnover against Duke. He also was primarily responsible for holding the Blue Devils’ All-American attacker Jordan Wolf to one goal.
Versus Colgate, Fletcher was matched up against Ryan Walsh, and he held the Raiders’ leading scorer without a goal or assist for the first time in his career, a total of 42 prior games. He then marked Navy’s T.J. Hanzsche, holding him without a point for the first time in 15 games. He then snapped the 41-game point-scoring streak of Bucknell’s David Dickson on April 17, holding him without a shot.
In all, the players Fletcher has had primary marking responsibilities for have tallied 11 goals in 13 games this year (including three each by the University of Virginia’s Mark Cockerton and Penn State University’s Shane Sturgis in the season’s first two games). Four of those goals have come when Fletcher was already out of the game late in the fourth quarter.
Fletcher has been named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week five times this year, the most any player in conference history has earned the award. He leads the Greyhounds with 61 ground balls and caused turnovers (19). His 69 career caused turnovers are third all-time at Loyola behind the 90 of P.T. Ricci and 88 of Scott Ratliff.
Not Just Defensive Midfield
Pat Laconi has continued to show his versatility as one of the top short-stick defensive midfielders in the nation while being a player with offensive acumen. The Preseason All-American had a goal against Bucknell to bring his season total to eight goals and three assists and his career numbers to 13 and 12.
Laconi posted four ground balls, matching his career-high, and three caused turnovers at Colgate, the final of each coming with less than 25 seconds remaining to help seal the win. He caused another three turnovers a week later at Navy and then had a career-high five against Bucknell. His team-leading 27 caused turnovers are tops a this season have brought his career total to 68, fourth-most in school history.
Schultz Stepping Up
In his first year as a starter on attack for the Greyhounds, senior Brian Schultz has scored 31 goals, second-most on the team through 14 games. He had the game-winning goal 12 seconds into the second overtime at Navy and less than two weeks later posted a career-best six goals in a win over Bucknell. His four against Colgate in the Patriot League Semifinals have given him 10 in Loyola’s last two contests.
Entering this season, Schultz had seen most of his playing time on extra-man opportunities for the Greyhounds, posting a combined three goals and five assists.
Near The Top At Both Sides
The Greyhounds entered the Championships as the only team to be in the top five of scoring offense and defense at the Division I level. Loyola’s goals per game (13.14) rank fifth, and its goals allowed (6.93) are third. As a result, Loyola leads the nation in scoring margin (+6.21).
Games Of Runs
Loyola has used significant runs in all 13 of its games this season, and it has had five stretches of seven or more unanswered goals. In all the Greyhounds have 25 runs of 3-0 or better. Here is a look at their four best scoring stretches:
Opponent Run Time Covered Opponent Run Time Covered at Holy Cross 14-0 38:58 Lafayette 12-0 26:53 Towson 10-0 16:38 at Virginia 9-0 14:18
Tewaaraton Watch Trio, Senior CLASS Award Pair
Loyola is one of three schools (along with Duke) to have three players named Tewaaraton Award nominees. Joe Fletcher, Nikko Pontrello and Justin Ward are semifinalists for the honor of college lacrosse’s top player.
Fletcher and Ward were also two of 20 players nationally to be named candidates for the Senior CLASS Award that seniors who have performed at a high level athletically and in the classroom and who have used their platforms as student-athletes to make positive impacts in the community. Earlier this month, they were selected as two of the award’s 10 finalists for this year.