No. 2 St. Paul's took a big step toward securing the second seed in the upcoming Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs on Tuesday afternoon by rallying past defending champion Loyola, 14-11, in a steady rain at Hargaden Field in Towson.
The Crusaders (10-5, 6-1 conference) remained a game ahead of Gilman in the standings in the chase for a first-round bye and still have a chance to grab a top seed if they beat Mount St. Joseph on Friday and knock off No. 1 and unbeaten Boys' Latin next week.
The No. 7 Dons (7-7, 3-4), on the other hand, are still hoping to repeat last year's magical title run when they sneaked into the playoffs and upset the Lakers in the championship game after winning just three conference games during the regular season.
Against St. Paul's, it appeared as if Loyola's late-season magic was in full force in the early going.
After spotting the Crusaders a 2-0 advantage on the first two of a game-high seven goals by senior attackman Mikey Wynne, the Dons picked apart the St. Paul's defense and junior goalie A.J. Barretto during a 7-0 spurt in which six different players scored.
"A.J. was not seeing the ball well early," St. Paul's coach Rick Brocato said. "But our job was to just keep playing and keep chipping away. A.J. did a much better job later in the game."
A left-handed liner by junior attackman Ryan Conrad started Loyola's assault and it was followed by goals from senior attackman Steve Jones, senior midfielder Brian Smith, junior midfielder Jack Lombardo, senior longstick defender Mike Meurer and junior attackman Alex Roesner.
That's when things took a turn for the worse for Loyola.
"We're up, 7-2, then we have a dumb penalty and they score," Loyola coach Jack Crawford said. "We made a lot of mental mistakes and just had a lot of bad decisions at both ends of the field."
Senior midfielder Henry Riehl followed Wynne's goal to make it 7-4 before Wynne struck again and junior attackman Carter Flaig followed suit to make it a one-goal game.
Smith countered for the Dons to establish an 8-6 lead at the half.
After midfielder Joe Pollard and Wynne tied it early in the third quarter, Roesner powered a shot past Barretto to inch Loyola back ahead, 9-8.
Wynne then deadlocked the score when he somehow got his hands free while being closely guarded to one-hop a shot past junior goalie Acie Newton.
Pollard notched the go-ahead goal after converting a feed from fellow sophomore Mitch Gordon with just eight seconds left in the third quarter.
Senior B.J. Mattheiss widened the margin for St. Paul's on a nice look from Wynne before Gordon ballooned the lead to 12-9 with 10:38 remaining.
The next pivotal sequence came when Barretto snuffed a shot with Loyola holding a two-man advantage. The Crusaders converted at the other end on a goal by Flaig with 7:05 to play.
Jones narrowed the gap off the ensuing faceoff for Loyola before Wynne's seventh goal wrapped it up for the Crusaders.
"We came out knowing we can get a good seed in the playoffs," said Wynne, who plans to enroll at Notre Dame in the fall. "I started off well and my teammates were finding me. I just tried to keep staying hot."
Goals: SP- Wynne 7, Gordon , Flaig 2, Riehl, Matheiss, Pollard 2 L- Conrad 2, Meurer, Smith 3, Lombardo, Jones 2, Roesner 2
Assists: SP- Wynne, Flaig 4, Riehl, Anderson 2, Gordon L- Roesner, Lopez 2, Conrad
Saves: SP- Barretto 11 L- Newton 9
Half: L 8-6