The Loyola College men's soccer team inched closer to its first NCAA tournament appearance in six years fittingly yesterday -- by beating the team that has been its nemesis during that same stretch.
Marc Harrison scored on a penalty kick with 13:58 left in the second half to lift the Greyhounds to a 1-0 victory over William & Mary before 220 soaked spectators at Curley Field. The victory, the eighth straight and the 14th in the past 15 games for the 22nd-ranked Greyhounds, improved their record to 16-2 and strengthened their chances for their first NCAA tournament berth since 1987. That was the last time Loyola beat the Tribe, and it happened in the national tournament.
Loyola also beat its third Top 20 team this season, and in the process probably knocked the 16th-ranked Tribe out of the national tournament. William & Mary suffered its third loss in its past four games, and has not won in three weeks.
With a victory against visiting Maryland tomorrow (3 p.m.), Loyola will seal its NCAA bid. And without the heroics of Harrison and goalie Zach Thornton yesterday, the Greyhounds might have been wondering how they lost another one to the Tribe.
Thornton, who ranks among the top goalkeepers in the nation, made only two saves, as the Greyhounds outshot William & Mary, 12-2. But his diving deflection of Tim Prisco's penalty shot 6 1/2 minutes into the contest gave the Greyhounds an early lift. Thornton went on to record his school-record 14th shutout.
"Zach came up big like he has all year," Loyola coach Bill Sento said. "It helped get us going early, not that we needed enthusiasm in a game like this. We had a couple of chances early, but we didn't put them away. Sometimes when you don't take advantage of those opportunities, you pay the penalty."
But it was William & Mary that paid the price for not cashing in one of its few chances to score. The Tribe came out strong early in the second half and pressured the Greyhounds' defense for the first 10 minutes. Then, after Loyola regained control, William & Mary goalkeeper Paul Grafer (two saves) went airborne to stop a hard shot by Brian Geraghty from about 25 yards out. With 18 minutes left, it appeared that overtime was imminent.
But four minutes later, the Greyhounds caught a break when midfielder Chris Doyle stole the ball on the left wing and broke into the clear. As he entered the penalty box, Doyle was tripped from behind.
That brought Harrison, Loyola's leading scorer, to center stage. He then hooked a hard shot into the upper right corner.
"I saw the goalie inch a little bit to his right, and I was trying to make him think I was going that way. That's when I decided to go [to his] left," said Harrison, a sophomore forward whose first penalty shot of the season gave him 12 goals and three assists this year.
"I knew it all would come down to this [shot]. I just tried to concentrate and do what I do in practice," he said.
The victory moved the Greyhounds into third place in the South Atlantic Region, and it improved Loyola's sterling, recent home record. In their past 24 games at Curley Field, the Greyhounds are 23-0-1. Their last home defeat came against William & Mary in 1991.