March 1, 2014

Loyola Makes Big Opening Patriot League Statement

by Michael Blouse | | Twitter

Loyola goalie Jack Runkel made 13 saves as the Greyhounds made a big statement against two-time defending Patriot League champion Lehigh. (John Strohsacker/

BETHLEHEM – Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese, after getting his first live look at Patriot League newcomer Loyola, said the new challenge for his Mountain Hawks and the rest of the league’s teams is now clear.

“It means we’ve got to get better,” Cassese answered when asked what perennial national power Loyola’s arrival meant specifically for his program. “That effort today, maybe it’s good enough to beat another team in our league. But it’s not going to be good enough anymore.

“Loyola’s a whole new challenge. They’re better than any Patriot League team I’ve seen in the last seven years.”

Cassese’s comments came immediately after his two-time defending league champion Mountain Hawks dropped a 14-7 decision to Loyola on Saturday afternoon at Lehigh’s Ulrich Sports Complex.

The Greyhounds, ranked No. 7 nationally in the coaches’ poll, improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the league. No. 14 Lehigh is 4-1 and 1-1.

Certainly, Loyola’s reputation – the Greyhounds won the 2012 national title – preceded its arrival.

Coach Charley Toomey’s squad was the preseason pick to capture the league title, and it has lived up to those expectations through two league games. Loyola routed Holy Cross 16-4 in Worcester, Mass., a week before it opened the month of March with a bang in Bethlehem.

The Greyhounds already sit atop the league standings.

The new-look Patriot League includes another newcomer in Boston University. With nine teams now in the league, each program will play an eight-game schedule.

“We’re finding our way in a new league,” Toomey said. “It’s not just new teams that we’re playing, but it’s new stadiums we’re playing at, it’s new hotels we’re staying at. Everything’s still new. We’re just trying to take care of Loyola and let everything else work itself out.”

While Toomey stopped short of proclaiming it the new best Patriot League men’s lacrosse rivalry, Greyhounds senior goalkeeper Jack Runkel said there is potential for a Loyola-Lehigh rivalry.

“We had this one marked on our calendars when the schedule came out,” admitted Runkel, who stopped 13 shots and yielded seven goals against the Mountain Hawks. “They’re the two-time defending Patriot League champ and coming up here was a big challenge and a big opportunity. I think it can be a real good rivalry.”

It started off a little lopsided.

Loyola and Lehigh played Saturday’s game on even terms in the first and fourth quarters. But in the second period the Greyhounds assumed control, and then they built on their lead in the third. Loyola outscored Lehigh 8-1 in the middle two quarters.

Kevin Ryan led the offensive attack with five goals, and Nikko Pontrello contributed four goals and an assist.

Led by the league’s preseason defensive player of the year Joe Fletcher, the Greyhounds consistently forced Lehigh into difficult shot attempts. The Mountain Hawks connected on just seven of their 29 tries.

“We’re starting to jell back there,” Toomey said of a defensive unit that includes starters Fletcher, Pat Frazier, David Manning and Runkel.

Since its season-opening 14-13 overtime loss to Virginia and a 12-11 overtime win vs. Penn State, Loyola has allowed a total of just 15 goals in three games. That defense, though, is sure to be tested by Duke on Saturday.

“We talk about the next game on our schedule,” Toomey said, “and Duke’s the next one now. This was a big league win but it’s over. Duke is a big strength-of-schedule game and another quality opponent.”

For Lehigh, the objective is to raise its level of play to meet that of the Greyhounds.

Cassese, who in his seven years as coach has elevated Lehigh’s program from league also-ran to national contender, said the loss to Loyola exposed the Mountain Hawks’ weaknesses.

“Loyola is really good and my hope is that our guys learned a lot out there. If they didn’t, they will when we watch the tape,” Cassese said.

“It’s March 1st, it’s early. Am I disappointed we didn’t win? Yes, but I’m still excited about this team. I was impressed by the way our guys battled the whole way. Down 11-4 going into the final quarter, we could’ve easily folded up. We kept playing hard.”

With Loyola’s addition to the new-look Patriot League, playing better will be the key for Lehigh – and any other championship hopeful.

Game Recap (from Press Release)

BETHLETHEM, Pa. – Loyola University Maryland's Kevin Ryan scored a career-high five goals, and Jack Runkel made 13 saves in goal as the seventh-ranked Greyhounds beat No. 14 Lehigh University, 14-7, on Saturday afternoon in Patriot League action at Ulrich Sports Complex.

Nikko Pontrello added four goals, all in the first half, and Ryan tallied four of his five during the second 30 minutes.

Runkel saved 13 of the Mountain Hawks' 29 total shots in the game.

Lehigh (4-1 overall, 1-1 Patriot League) scored the game's first goal on a rebound shot by Patrick Corbett, but Loyola (4-1, 2-0) tallied three in a row to lead 3-1 on Pontrello's first with 6:27 left in the quarter.

The Mountain Hawks, however, tied the game at 3-3 on an Alex Eaton goal with 51 ticks left in the first quarter, and the teams headed to the second period tied.

Loyola shutout the Mountain Hawks in that frame to start to pull away, going up 7-3 at halftime. Pontrello scored three in a row, and twice on man-up possessions, to start the second quarter, and Brian Schultz added his first of two with 2:32 left in the half.

Lehigh got within three to start the third quarter when Reid Weber scored 3:21 into the period, but that was as close as it would get the remainder of the game.

The Greyhounds scored four-straight goals, all coming from their midfield.

Pat Laconi started the scoring at 8:18 when he ran free down the left alley during a Mountain Hawks substitution, and Jeff Chase found him with a pass. Chase finished with a career-high three assists in the game.

Ryan then bookended a Matt Sawyer goal at 6:12 with scores at 7:26 and 3:12. Ryan's first in the series came when he used a Chase pass to find space and hit a sidearm shot, and he scored his second after rolling off a check near the crease before shooting inside the opposite post.

His second put Loyola ahead 11-4 entering the fourth quarter, but after killing a two-man advantage by the Greyhounds, Lehigh scored twice in a row.

Corbett tallied his second of the game, this on an extra-man opportunity, at 12:55 off a Dan Taylor assist at 12:55. Billy Oppenheimer cut the Mountain Hawks' deficit to five, 11-6, at 6:23 by taking a Weber feed from behind and scoring his frist of the season.

Just over a minute later, Justin Ward, who was one off his career-high with four assists, used a cross-field pass to find Schultz on the crease for a goal.

Ryan added his fourth at 4:53 off a Ward helper, and after Matt Smith scored unassisted for Lehigh at 1:33, Ryan scored on an empty net with 53 ticks of the clock left.

His previous career-high of three goals came just last week at Holy Cross. His eight goals in two games match his career total entering the 2014 season.

Loyola scored its 14 goals on 34 shots, converting on 41.2 percent of its attempts. All but four of the scores were assisted.

The Greyhounds had a 27-22 advantage in groundballs, as Graham Savio had an excellent day at the face-off 'X'. The freshman won 15-of-24 and picked up six ground balls.

Joe Fletcher and Pat Frazier each caused two turnovers for Loyola, while Laconi had one in addition to his career-high tying two goals.

Runkel made stops on 13 of the 20 shots on goal he faced, while Lehigh's Matt Pollion finished with 11 saves.

The Greyhounds take just over a week off before their next game, a step out of conference play on Sunday, March 9, to host Duke University. The game, which is between the last two NCAA Champions, will start at 6 p.m. at Ridley Athletic Complex and will be broadcast nationally on CBS Sports Network.

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