Scott Ratliff, Loyola's dynamic long-stick midfielder, gave a national viewing audience a glimpse of his offensive skills last Saturday. He faked a run to the midfield, curled back into the right alley, and converted a pass from sophomore attackman Justin Ward for the team's first goal in a 17-5 pasting of Canisius in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Ratliff's goal was hardly surprising to John Holthaus. The junior's coach at George Walton Comprehensive High School in Marietta, Ga., said Ratliff was a constant presence on offense and defense as a prep athlete.
"By his senior year, we had him playing where he would literally run off the field with his long stick and then go back and play offense as a middie with a short stick," Holthaus said. "We literally used him everywhere."
That won't happen this Saturday, when the top-seeded Greyhounds (15-1) meet Denver (9-6) in an NCAA quarterfinal at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. But it serves as an example of the versatility Ratliff possesses.
He shuts down an opponent's top midfielder, vacuums groundballs, ignites the transition from defense to offense, and scores goals. In the victory over the Golden Griffins, Ratliff collected his first faceoff win, eventually finishing 3-of-6 on draws.
CharIey Toomey is fully aware that Ratliff would love to try his hand on the team's man-up unit, but the coach wants to ensure that there's plenty of fuel in Ratliff's tank for his primary responsibilities.
"For what we get out of Scott, we ask an awful lot out of him week in and week out," Toomey said. "Both he and [senior long-stick midfielder] Kevin Moriarty are a great tandem, but right now Scott between the lines gives us that added burst that we need to go from defense to offense."
Ratliff's journey to Loyola wasn't easy. Hailing from Marietta, he didn't get much attention from Division I programs. Holthaus called Toomey, his former college roommate and teammate, and asked him to take a look at Ratliff. When a recruit backed out, opening up a spot, Toomey agreed, thinking Ratliff would at the very minimum provide an example with his work ethic.
"I blew it. That kid has been more than just a locker room guy," Toomey said. "He's been a guy that plays at the highest level on a national stage. My roommate has never let me forget that. But that's what it's about. In recruiting, you get lucky every once in a while, and we certainly got lucky on this one."
With two goals against Canisius, Ratliff (11 goals and seven assists) surpassed current defensive coordinator Matt Dwan (11, 5) for the school record in points in a season by a defenseman. Ratliff, whose assists lead all Division I long poles, also paces the team in groundballs (74) and caused turnovers (34).
ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich said Ratliff's value to Loyola is, well, invaluable.
"In the past, that long-stick midfield position was kind of a role player," said Kessenich, a former All-American goalie at Johns Hopkins. "You were considered a part-timer because you spent half the game on the bench. But now with the game becoming more of a specialist's game, a player like Ratliff or [senior] C.J. Costabile at Duke, their ability to generate possessions off faceoffs, possessions off of turnovers and then to convert those possessions into goal-scoring opportunities, a guy like Ratliff is worth three, four, five goals a game for Loyola. If he didn't play, they'd have some serious issues."
Ratliff is widely recognized as being one of the best long-stick midfielders in the country, generally grouped with Costabile and Maryland junior Jesse Bernhardt. Bernhardt is considered the better defender, Costabile is the ball hawk, and Ratliff is the offensive wizard.
But only Costabile was named one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award. Ratliff, who fully endorsed teammate and junior attackman Mike Sawyer's candidacy for the honor presented annually to the top collegiate player, said he's touched just to be mentioned.
"Certainly it's an honor," Ratliff said. "At the same time, I try not to pay too much attention to it. I definitely use it as motivation. I watch those guys and other great players and push myself to be as good or better than them. But at the same time, you're really not trying to focus on them. It's more about winning games and hopefully getting to Boston."
Perhaps no opponent has a better perspective on Ratliff's play than Denver, which watched him amass one goal, one assist, three groundballs and two caused turnovers in a 12-9 loss April 14 and register two goals — including the game-winner — nine groundballs and one caused turnovers in a 14-13 overtime loss in the Eastern College Athletic Conference semifinals.
"He has had an unbelievable impact against us," Denver coach Bill Tierney said. "I think he's a fantastic kid. He's clearly a great athlete, and in my time of coaching, he's one of three or four long sticks that I've ever felt that you have to treat him like an offensive player. It just so happens that this year, we have two of the best that may have ever played in Ratliff and Costabile."