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'Fortunate' Loyola beats Georgetown, 10-9, for seventh straight win

WASHINGTON — Nikko Pontrello picked a good time to wake up from his mini-slumber.

After being shut out in the first half, the junior attackman scored three goals in the final two quarters, including the game-winner with 51.4 seconds left to propel the No. 2 Loyola men's lacrosse team to a 10-9 victory over host Georgetown at Multi-Sport Field.

An announced 517 braved showers and cool temperatures to watch the Greyhounds (7-1) extend their winning streak to seven. They have not dropped a game since a season-opening loss to Virginia on Feb. 6.

Loyola has Pontrello to thank. The attackman, who entered the game with 26 goals —second in Division I — scored three of the team's five second-half goals, including two in the fourth quarter.

On the game-winner, Pontrello curled around the left post, rolled back to get under his defender, and then slid the ball past junior goalkeeper Jake Haley (11 saves) while in mid-air.

Pontrello admitted that he played a little "ticked off" in the final two periods.

"I felt like early on, I wanted to preach ball movement," he said. "As a team, we need to get the ball around and share it and see how they're sliding. In the second half, I just looked to dodge a little bit more and carry it in my stick just to see how they were playing me and kind of look for my own. Sometimes, that's how it goes."

The Hoyas (3-5) had a chance to knot the score when senior Tyler Knarr won the faceoff following Pontrello's final score his 15th win in 22 attempts. Georgetown nearly turned the ball over before coach Kevin Warne called a timeout. When play resumed, Greyhounds junior defenseman David Manning stripped junior attackman Bo Stafford of the ball to end the game.

Both teams battled to stay within striking distance of each other throughout the contest. There were six lead changes and seven ties. Loyola's largest lead of the game was one goal, while the Hoyas' biggest advantage was two.

A Greyhounds offense that had averaged 13.7 goals per game this season struggled against the Hoyas. The play of Haley was a significant factor, but senior attackman Justin Ward (Old Mill) said Loyola at times was their own worst enemy, making ill-advised passes and taking low-percentage shots.

"I don't think it was necessarily a schematic issue," said Ward, who recorded a game-high five points on one goal and four assists. "I think we just beat ourselves in some situations and took some bad shots and put some guys in difficult positions with passes inside. Throughout the game, we realized that simple is better for this offense in terms of dodge, draw a slide, move it, move it and dodge again. Those were some things we tried to focus on in the second half."

Clinging to a 6-5 lead at halftime, Georgetown got a goal from junior midfielder Charles McCormick with 11:30 left in the third quarter to take a two-goal lead. But Ward spotted senior attackman Brian Schultz for a point-blank tally with 9:33 remaining.

Loyola tied the score with 6:28 left in the period on a strange play. Freshman midfielder Romar Dennis took a shot from the top of the box, but the ball struck Pontrello, who was trying to screen Haley. Haley ranged out of the cage to grab the loose ball, but Pontrello got there first and fired the ball into the empty net.

The Greyhounds took an 8-7 lead when Schultz whipped in his second goal off a pass from Ward with 2:47 remaining.

The Hoyas tied the score and took the lead on a pair of goals in an eight-second span in the fourth quarter, but Loyola forced a 9-9 tie when Ward found Pontrello on the left side of the crease during a transition opportunity to set up Pontrello's game-winner.

Loyola won its second one-goal decision in as many games and the look of relief was apparent on coach Charley Toomey's face.

"I thought this is the type of game we need to have," he said. "We can address things now. We can go back and look at film and we can fix some things. We need to look at some guys and say, 'This can't happen.' We were very fortunate tonight to get out of here with a win."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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