February 15, 2014

Loyola's Pontrello, Savio Flip Script in OT Thriller

by Joe Kearns | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter


One week after his team lost a thriller in overtime, Loyola junior attacker Nikki Pontrello scored a game-winning goal nineteen seconds into overtime and turned heartbreak into jubilation.

The Greyhounds’ 12-11 win over No. 9 Penn State (1-1) at Holuba Hall on Saturday did not come easily. No. 12 Loyola (1-1) had allowed a four-point lead to slip away as the Nittany Lions rallied late in the fourth quarter to tie the game 11-11 and force overtime. It was eerily similar to last week’s game between Loyola and Virginia, in which the Greyhounds scored nine consecutive goals to claim the lead late in the fourth quarter only to let it slip away in a 14-13 defeat in overtime.

The game-winning shot was Pontrello’s third goal of the game. He now has five goals this season, which ties him for the team’s lead with sophomore Tyler Albrecht.

Loyola head coach Charley Toomey said the game-winning goal was the not the result of a game plan devised prior to the beginning of overtime. Instead, he credits the instinctiveness of his players for the win.

“We thought about calling a timeout, but we got a loose-ball push so we had a little bit of a scramble situation,” Toomey said. “Really, there was no play. We hadn’t set up in anything. I think the guys are pretty good about recognizing situations and attacking matchups. Nikko just got a favorable matchup. I think they were a little bit spread out on the wings. He was just able to get it just under top-side of the sky and finish the game for us.”

Pontrello’s opportunity opened up at the faceoff in overtime when Toomey sent freshman Graham Savio to battle Penn State redshirt freshman Drake Kreinz at the X instead of junior Blake Burkhart or senior Brendan Donovan.

Toomey said he consulted with assistant coach Steve Vaikness prior to overtime to decide which player should be sent for the faceoff. Although Toomey said Vaikness generally prefers to avoid having a freshman battle for the faceoff in overtime, the coaches decided that Savio gave them the best chance in that situation.

“What coach Vaikness does is a terrific job of recognizing matchups,” Toomey said. “He just felt like that was going to give us the best chance in that position. Great for Graham. He got the ball out. We were able to pick one up. Actually, there was a loose-ball push, but we gained possession.”

It was the second consecutive week Savio was chosen ahead of an upperclassmen to battle for faceoffs at the X by the end of the game. In last week’s game against Virginia, Savio went 11-for-18 after he took over for Burkhart, who went 2-for-10.

The Greyhounds have lost the majority of faceoffs in each of their two games this season. They only won 12 of the 27 faceoffs against Penn State on Saturday, a week after they won just 13 of the 28 faceoffs against Virginia.

When Savio won the faceoff against Kreinz at the beginning of the third quarter, the outcome foreshadowed the result in overtime. Pontrello scored a goal fifty seconds after Loyola gained possession and gave his team a 6-3 lead.

Although Savio only won eight of his eighteen faceoffs in Saturday’s game, the momentum of the entire game shifted when he won the game’s final faceoff. It was now the Greyhounds who emerged victorious at the end of an overtime thriller.

“This was a big win for us,” Toomey said. “It was a long eight or nine days of preparation for Penn State and we had a chance to think about that. Now we have a couple days to go before Towson, so we go from eight days of thinking about a tough loss to coming off a big win.”

Loyola will return home to prepare for next Wednesday’s game when the Greyhounds host Towson. The game is slated for a 3:00 p.m. faceoff at the Ridley Athletic Complex.

Penn State, meanwhile, is in the position Loyola found itself in last week because of the overtime heroics from Pontrello and Savio.

 “You have to go through these things as a program and as a team,” Penn State head coach Jeff Tambroni said. “I thought our guys fought very hard down the stretch and showed a lot of courage. That’s a testament to the leadership of that senior class and the group that we have down there in today’s game.”

Penn State gets the chance to flip the script next Saturday when the Lions go on the road to face No. 5 Notre Dame. The game is set for a 3:00 p.m. faceoff at Arlotta Stadium.


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