The number three has become a theme for Loyola.
The Greyhounds began the season with three victories, then dropped three straight regular-season contests under coach Charley Toomey for the first time, and now has won three consecutive games, including Saturday's 7-6 overtime decision against visiting Fairfield at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore.
It's been a somewhat dramatic reversal for a program that was once in danger of missing the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament and – with a 3-2 league record – is now in second place in the conference.
Loyola (6-3 overall) won't be able to overtake No. 12 Denver for the top spot in the conference unless the Pioneers drop their last three league contests. But the team's focus is more short-term, Toomey said.
"We're one game at a time," he said Saturday. "So right now for us, it's Georgetown [on Saturday]. It's an opportunity outside of the conference to maybe put something on your resume for May. We'll start preparing for them tonight, and that's it. The week after that, we have our last conference game at home, and we'll be excited to play Hobart at home. But I do think that this team plays the right way. I think the last couple of weeks, we've talked about discipline an awful lot in our locker room, and I think that this team is ready for the stretch run. I think they expect to be in the conference tournament, and I think we expect to be playing our best lacrosse in the conference tournament. And that's our focus and that's really our marching orders right now."
The Greyhounds would appear to have the tools to make a bid for the NCAA postseason. Senior John Schiavone is among the top-20 leaders in Division I in faceoff percentage, the attack unit appears to have found its starting lineup with graduate student Chris Palmer shifting from the midfield to join senior Matt Langan and sophomore Mike Sawyer, and the defense anchored by senior goalkeeper Jake Hagelin and senior defenseman Steve Dircks is one of the stingiest in the country.
"We're really getting back to the right path," Schiavone said. "We were down a little hole, and I've been here for five years, and I've seen a lot of different stuff. It's tough to see a team like that, and it's even harder to bring a team out of the hole we put ourselves in. … Now we're coming out, we're flying from the beginning, we're excited to play, everyone's on each other's shoulders, everybody's ready to go. It's a good thing to see."
*The Greyhounds didn't score any goals in transition, but it's easy to see how much better they are in that department. When Hagelin can make a save and launch a deep outlet pass to either short-stick defensive midfielder in sophomore Josh Hawkins or freshman Pat Laconi or sophomore long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff, their speed allows them to carry the ball into the offensive zone and force opposing defenses to account for them. Hawkins and Ratliff combined for three shots, one of which was stopped by Fairfield junior goalie Charlie Cipriano. "We are a team that definitely wants to run," Toomey said. "We are better when we are running. When Josh Hawkins has the ball in the middle of the field or Scott Ratliff has the ball in the middle of the field, we're going to be a pretty good team."
*This won't reach the same level of mass hysteria that Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's admission generated in March, but Stags coach Andrew Copelan admitted that several of his players were emotional after the team's setback to Loyola. "There were a lot of teary eyes in that locker room," Copelan said. "Our seniors have not beaten Loyola in four years. So right now, we're just kind of looking ahead to the next one. We've just got to put ourselves in a position to make the conference tournament out in Denver, and if you can do that, really anything can happen. I just feel for our seniors." Added Cipriano, who was composed during the post-game conference: "This is a tough one. We were almost there. Hopefully, we get the next one."
*Once on solid footing to qualify for the ECAC tournament, Fairfield has tough road ahead. After non-league contests against Hartford and No. 9 Hofstra, the Stags have back-to-back road games against Ohio State and No. 12 Denver. That's not an unenviable task, which Copelan seemed to have recognized. "We have some work to do," he conceded. "… We're playing out at Ohio State in The Horseshoe before their spring football game. So that's going to be an emotional contest. We're going to have to find a way to get a W on the road there or a W on the road at Denver, which is going to be their Senior Day, and you'll be playing at a different altitude. So right now, we're looking uphill a little bit, but we're going to try to embrace the challenge and put our best foot forward."