If this was a statement game, then No. 1 Loyola Maryland left a great impression on No. 6 Johns Hopkins and the rest of the college lacrosse world.
The Greyhounds trailed early, rallied in the middle and then put away the Blue Jays down the stretch in a 13-10 win before an announced sellout crowd of 6,000 at Ridley Athletic Complex.
Although they had won 14 straight after a 14-13 season-opening overtime loss to Virginia, few knew whether the Greyhounds deserved their No. 1 ranking because they had not played a Top 10 team since beating then-No. 6 Duke, 14-7, on March 9.
But there are no skeptics now.
"That's a very good team — that's the reason they are No. 1," said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala. "They are very talented, a well-coached team. When you watch them, you appreciate just how solid they are across the board. They are going to be a tough out in the tournament."
The Greyhounds needed to prove something to themselves as well. They won the Patriot League tournament title a week ago, but that conference is filled with teams like Lehigh, Colgate, Bucknell and Boston University. There are no big names or traditional favorites like Maryland, Cornell, Syracuse or North Carolina.
"This was huge for us," said Greyhounds senior attackman Justin Ward (Old Mill). "Not to discredit the Patriot League, but the style which our league plays is much different than what we're going to see at [NCAA] tournament time. We're going to see incredibly fast midfielders, we're going to see hot goaltenders, and we're going to see great faceoff guys. All those things we were concerned about this week.
"We made the adjustments during the game," he said. "This is huge for us to experience this atmosphere. It's a big difference playing in front of 500 people, and then 10,000 people come quarterfinal weekend. We handled every aspect. We started slow, caught our breath and continued to play."
Loyola showed strong balance. They got the usual production from the attack of Ward (4 assists), senior Brian Schultz (3 goals) and junior Nikko Pontrello (3 goals), and they also got two goals from sophomore midfielder Jeff Chase (Boys' Latin).
When the Greyhounds needed possession, they leaned on a freshman, Graham Savio. Savio won 17 of 26 faceoffs and scored a goal with 3:43 left in the second quarter that put Loyola up 8-6.
And, of course, there was senior goalie Jack Runkel. He finished with nine saves and might have made the play of the game when he stuffed freshman midfielder Cody Radziewicz one-on-one with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
About 30 seconds later, Schultz finished off a fast break that Runkel started to give Loyola a 13-8 lead with 10:19 left in the game.
The Greyhounds simply outhustled Hopkins with a 52-33 advantage in ground balls.
"We grew up today," said Loyola coach Charley Toomey. "It was a game we needed to play to get ourselves ready for the next one."
Toomey was referring to the NCAA tournament. The Greyhounds are in thanks to the Patriot League automatic qualifier, but there is a chance Hopkins won't make the 18-team field, which will be announced Sunday night at 9. A win Saturday would have guaranteed the Blue Jays (10-4) a spot.
"When you evaluate, when you go through the numbers and look at wins and losses, we don't have a bad loss," said Pietramala. "We had destiny in our hands, but now we put it in some one else's."
Hopkins got off to a fast start and led 4-2 at the end of the first period. Loyola had five turnovers in the quarter, and the Blue Jays took advantage of the Greyhounds' short-stick midfielders.
Hopkins midfielder Rob Guida had all three of his goals in the first 15 minutes, twice beating Loyola short-stick Pat Laconi. Guida's second goal made it 3-0 with 10:58 left in the quarter, but Loyola scored twice in the next minute, the second an extra-man goal from senior midfielder Matt Sawyer to cut the Blue Jays lead to 3-2.
Guida beat Laconi from behind the net for a goal with 8:19 remaining to make it 4-2, and then Loyola starting putting a long-pole midfielder on Guida.
Loyola scored the first three goals of the second period, the third one by Chase to give the Greyhounds their first lead of the game, 5-4, midway in the second quarter. The two teams traded goals before Loyola scored the last two in the period, one from midfielder Brian Sherlock and the other from Savio, to put Loyola ahead, 8-6, at the half.
The first half was played evenly, but Loyola was ahead in two key categories; the Greyhounds won 11 of 15 faceoffs and also had a 23-13 advantage in ground balls.