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No. 1 Denver at No. 8 Loyola
Are the Greyhounds still kings of the ECAC?
This has rapidly become one of the premier rivalries in lacrosse. Loyola beat Denver three times in 2012 by a combined five goals. A 10-9 win in the 2012 NCAA quarterfinals propelled gang green to Championship Weekend.
The Greyhounds are 9-2 and 5-0 in the Eastern College Athletic Conference, while the Pioneers are also 9-2 with wins over Duke, Lehigh, Penn and Ohio State.
Loyola is healthy and back at full strength after battling injuries in February and March. The defensive midfield is the best in the country with long-pole Scott Ratliff and shorties Pat Laconi and Josh Hawkins. Ratliff scored four goals last week against Fairfield, which might be the most ever by a pole in a single game. They are stoppers who allow coach Charley Toomey to employ a man-to-man defense that is hesitant to slide to dodgers. They don't create offense for the opponent — dodgers must earn it. Loyola has allowed just 22 goals over its past four games.
Offensively, the Greyhounds are a work in progress. They are plus-8 in special teams situations while clearing at a terrific 94 percent. Four players have eclipsed 20 points: Old Mill grad Justin Ward (23,24), Nikko Pontrello (13,14), Mike Sawyer (19,2) and Chris Layne (12,8). It's time for the midfielders to be unleashed — guys like Layne, Davis Butts and Sean O'Sullivan need to make the box score.
Denver has an electrifying offense, averaging 13 goals per game while shooting 35 percent. Eric Law, Wesley Berg and Cameron Flint are the nucleus of the offense. Denver grinds out long possessions, preferring a half-field slow pace. It is No. 1 in offensive efficiency and is tremendously skilled.
Coach Bill Tierney makes shrewd halftime adjustments, as evidenced by Denver's 40-21 third-quarter scoring edge. The Pioneers split halves with two capable goalies ¿ Jamie Faus and Ryan LaPlante. Their man-to-man defense down low has been porous. So Denver has played a ton of 3-3 zone. The Pios limp into Charm City with some concerning injuries to Jeremy Noble, who will sit out, and Gordie Koerber (Gilman), who is unlikely to play.
This game should be fun to watch — it combines an entertaining mix of drama and talent between teams that respect each other.