By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun
7:36 PM EST, February 19, 2014
Sometime during the second quarter of Wednesday's men's lacrosse game between No. 13 Loyola and No. 18 Towson, a storm that at times pelted Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore with rain passed and a rainbow formed over the field. That natural wonder was about the only positive for the Tigers.
The host Greyhounds scored nine goals in the first quarter en route to the program's most convincing win since 2007, a 20-4 pasting of Towson.
An announced 583 watched Loyola score the first 10 goals of the game and enter halftime with a decided 11-1 advantage.
The ease by which the Greyhounds disposed of the Tigers was a welcome departure from the first two games of the season, in which Loyola dropped a 14-13 overtime decision to No. 10 Virginia on Feb. 6 and then escaped with a 12-11 overtime win against then-No. 12 Penn State last Saturday.
"It feels very nice," said senior defenseman Joe Fletcher, who had three ground balls and two caused turnovers. "I feel overtime has been the common theme so far. So, getting a breather felt pretty good."
Senior attackman Nikko Pontrello scored four goals, and senior attackman Justin Ward (Old Mill) and redshirt freshman midfielder Brian Sherlock each recorded two goals and two assists in the Greyhounds' biggest victory since a 19-2 thrashing of Fairfield on April 21, 2007.
Loyola's offense overpowered Towson in a variety of ways. The unit scored 14 times in six-on-six situations, four off turnovers, one in transition and one off the faceoff.
"In the first quarter, there were a lot of unsettled plays and we got some good ground balls on the offensive end, and that led to some good goals," said Pontrello, who leads the team in both goals (nine) and points (12). "Our spacing was great. It made passes much easier. Early on and throughout game, it went really well."
All six starters scored at least one goal, and five other players each scored once. The offense's speed may have caught the Tigers by surprise, because it apparently shocked Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey.
"I think I was caught off guard a little bit today by our speed," he said. "I said going into the locker room that we needed to play fast, and the guys came out of locker room and they did just that. I think we grew up a little bit as a team today. We played at a different pace."
Defensively, Loyola held three Towson starters scoreless, including senior attackman Thomas DeNapoli, who took just four shots while being shadowed by Fletcher, a first-team All American in 2013.
Senior goalkeeper Jack Runkel surrendered just two goals and made seven saves, including two in the first four minutes of the game when he turned aside a four-yard shot by DeNapoli and a 10-yard blast by sophomore midfielder Chris Vetter.
"Any save early in game for a goalie will lift a goalie's confidence," said Runkel, who lowered his goals-against average from 12.97 to 8.00 and raised his save percentage from .405 to .478. "A lot of goalies are out there, trying to get out there and to make that first save. Definitely just getting out there and making a good clean stop was my goal, just to get myself going. It definitely helped to push me along."
Freshman midfielder Ryan Drenner was the only Tiger to finish with more than one point, as he registered one goal and one assist. But it wasn't enough to prevent the team from suffering its worst loss since May 18, 1996 when Towson fell, 22-6, to Princeton in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal.
Coach Shawn Nadelen had enough of a sense of humor to joke that he wished he had 10 timeouts in each half to try to stop the Greyhounds' momentum, but turned serious when assessing the play of the defense.
"Our defensive guys were just all out of sorts, and they were beating us in the individual matchups," Nadelen said. "We know they have really good attackmen, with Ward and Pontrello. Those guys are great dodging attackmen, as well as working well off of each other in off-ball situations.
"Our close defense — which should be the strength of our defense especially with how young we are up top — they've got to be able to lock things down for us. When you're getting beat at the best spot for you, it makes it very tough to be successful, and I think that's what really put us in a hole early and hurt our chances."
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