A Stevenson defense that has surrendered just 5.8 goals per game in its last nine contests has been led by the play of senior defenseman Kyle Holechek.

The Loyola High graduate has recorded 43 ground balls and 27 caused turnovers over that same span. He leads the reigning national champion Mustangs (18-2) in caused turnovers with 43 and ranks second among teammates who are not faceoff specialists in ground balls with 64.

“I think he’s gotten better as the year has gone on,” coach Paul Cantabene said Friday morning. “I think his last four or five games have been his best games of the year. I think he’s playing really well. He’s getting the ball off the ground, he’s causing a lot of turnovers, he’s guarding, he does a lot for us. So his play over the last four or five games has been really tremendous.”

Holechek’s season had a brief hiccup when he was held out of the starting lineup for the team’s 15-14 overtime loss to 2013 national runner-up Rochester Institute of Technology on Feb. 22 for what Cantabene called “a breach of team rules.” But the coach said Holechek has rebounded quickly.

“Since he is a senior and this is his last time around, I really feel that he feels that urgency to be great and that it could end at any time,” Cantabene said. “He doesn’t want it to end. So he wants to continue to practice, and his urgency and leadership have all gotten better because the end is in sight.”

Holechek’s play could be critical in Saturday’s NCAA tournament second-round game against Cabrini (17-1) at 7 p.m. at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills. The Cavaliers are led by senior attackman Corey Elmer, who ranks first in Division III in points (113), fourth in assists (55) and fifth in goals (58).

Cantabene said he is confident Holechek or sophomore Callum Robinson could mark Elmer.

“I think what Kyle does for us is, he really understands the defense and what we need to be in,” Cantabene said. “He also understands people’s weaknesses and strengths. He’s really good at understanding that and how to play people and the angles and everything. So if he gets the call, we have all the trust in the world that he’s going to do great.”

Stevenson has won all three NCAA tournament meetings with Cabrini and all three have taken place at home. That could be an advantage for the Mustangs.

“I think any time you play at home in the NCAA tournament, it’s a big factor,” Cantabene said. “We’re lucky enough to play a lot of games at home, and I think it’s really paid off with how well we’ve done. Playing at home is big, and having our home crowd and being able to sleep in our own beds and being able to play on our own field, I think that’s always big in the NCAA tournament. We’ve lost four games in the NCAA tournament and three of them have been away from home. So I think it’s big to play at home.”