Late in No. 2 Loyola’s 10-9 decision over Georgetown on Tuesday night, the score was knotted at 9-9, and the Greyhounds had the ball. The starting attack and midfield were on the field – with one exception.
Pat Laconi was a part of the offense, and that’s not unusual considering the senior is a midfielder. What is unusual is that Laconi is the team’s top short-stick defensive midfielder.
But Laconi scored Loyola’s first goal with 2 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first quarter and stayed in the offensive zone late in the final period. Laconi said his presence on offense shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“In practice each week, we try to put in a couple plays here and there that some of our D-middies – if we’re fresh – can run with our offense,” he said. “Mainly, it’s to tire out their offensive players and also because offensive players generally aren’t good at defense. In practice and in a few games this year, we’ve gotten a few good looks from it, and we’re going to continue to do that as much as possible.”
Laconi’s offensive skills have grown. His six goals thus far are one more than he had scored in his first three seasons, and he has posted 10 assists.
“He’s great between the lines, and he shoots the ball harder than anybody else on the team, which is pretty rare for a defensive player,” senior attackman Justin Ward (Old Mill) said. “He easily hits 100 miles per hour. He just does a lot of things for us.”
Laconi’s value, however, rests in his proficiency at turning back opposing midfielders and helping fortify the Greyhounds (7-1). He led the unit with two caused turnovers against the Hoyas (3-5) and is tied with senior defenseman Joe Fletcher for the team lead in caused turnovers (12).
“There’s a reason he’s a MLL player,” coach Charley Toomey said of Laconi, who was selected by the Charlotte Hounds with the ninth overall pick in January’s Major League Lacrosse draft . “I think people recognize what he can do at the next level. He’s a terrific sit-down, cover short-stick, and that’s a real premium. But what we also recognize is that he shoots probably as hard as anybody else on our team, and he’s a very heady player. … He brings that energy. He’s a one-time clear, and if he gets that ball in his stick, he’s able to run it out for us, and what we’ve allowed him to do on the offensive end is if he sees an opportunity, he’s got the green light.”
Laconi was the first short-stick defensive midfielder chosen in the MLL draft, but he would not say whether that meant that he is the best at his position on the collegiate level.
“I wouldn’t say that until the end of the year,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there. Ryan Creighton is a great player from UNC. He’s probably the strongest defensive middie I’ve ever seen. He’s a big boy and he hits people hard. It’s great that people think of me like that, but I try to just make sure that I’m the best player I can be. My goal is to be the best in the country, and that’s what I try to do.”
* Senior goalkeeper Jack Runkel finished with nine saves, but his most important one with less than two minutes left in regulation. Georgetown junior attackman Bo Stafford dodged against junior defenseman David Manning. Manning got enough of Stafford to disrupt his shot, but Stafford still unleashed a right-handed shot that Runkel stopped with his stick. Several seconds later, junior attackman Nikko Pontrello scored the game-winning goal with 51.4 seconds remaining.
“Jack’s continued to play big for us,” Toomey said. “In big spots, he steps up and kind of saves our bacon, and that’s what he did today. Not only does he make big saves, but he does the things that people don’t see. He gets us to the right spots defensively. He started us in our slides in the second half when we needed them. Five of their first six goals were unassisted, and we recognized that we needed to start sliding. Jack kind of got us going there.”
* Runkel, however, was outplayed by Hoyas junior Jake Haley, who finished with a game-high 11 saves. Haley was especially instrumental in helping Georgetown kill all four of the Greyhounds’ extra-man opportunities. He alone stopped three of those chances when he stoned senior midfielder Kevin Ryan on shots from the slot in each man-up situation.
“I thought Jake Haley was as advertised,” Toomey said. “I thought he was terrific today. I thought he stood on his head and kind of put that game never out of reach.”
* Loyola had trouble with Hoyas senior Tyler Knarr, who won 15-of-22 faceoffs and collected 15 ground balls. Knarr scored one goal after winning a draw in the first quarter and then contributed to another one with a faceoff win that led to him passing the ball to Stafford, who shifted the ball to junior attackman Reilly O’Connor for a blast in the fourth period. Toomey said the team’s trio of faceoff specialists in junior Blake Burkhart (6-of-17 against Georgetown), freshman Grant Savio (1-of-3) and freshman Ryan Fournier (0-of-2) has some work to do.
“We’ve got an hour-and-a-half to sit on a bus and figure that out before Saturday,” Toomey said. “We’re good there. There have been days this season when that has been our strength. We just need to allow Coach [Steve] Vaikness to watch the film and work with our guys to understand the next matchup. Our thoughts are on Lafayette, and that’s the next test. So we’ve got to do some quick homework and figure out how to get the next W.”