RICHMOND, Va. -- A stifling defensive performance early in the game set the tone for No. 11 Loyola's 7-5 victory over No. 13 George Mason yesterday in a Colonial Athletic Association Tournament semifinal at University of Richmond Stadium.
The Greyhounds (11-2) will need more of the same in this afternoon's final -- the fifth straight title-game showdown between Loyola and defending champ James Madison.
The No. 3 Dukes, who beat No. 19 William & Mary, 14-8, in yesterday's other semifinal, won the regular-season meeting with the Greyhounds, 12-6, on March 19 in Harrisonburg. The winner of today's game will receive the first automatic bid in NCAA women's lacrosse tournament history.
Among the keys for the Greyhounds today will be shot selection. They hit seven of 27 shots and nailed the pipe six times yesterday. Coach Diane Geppi-Aikens said that will have to improve.
"We didn't take the extra second to control the ball and really look at the cage and stick the ball in the cage," said Geppi-Aikens. "We were just shooting to shoot today and we haven't done that in a while. We don't mind shooting a lot, but we want a few more of them to go in the cage."
Also critical to today's game against the Dukes, who average 15 goals, will be strong goaltending, draw control and limiting turnovers, said Geppi-Aikens. All of those turned out better than shot selection for Loyola yesterday.
The Greyhounds, who built a 7-2 lead, forced 21 Patriots turnovers, with most of the unforced ones due to the rainy weather and slippery field.
Although the Patriots dominated possession for the first 11 minutes, 30 seconds, they couldn't put anything past a Greyhounds defense led by Theresa Naab, Dana Capello, Kristin Hagert, Jen Albright and goalie Tricia Dabrowski, who finished with 13 saves.
"Our defense really kept us in the game in the first half," said Greyhounds midfielder Kory Miller. "We were really in sync as far as communication and coming up with loose balls.
"On the attack, we were getting a little too excited to score. It was all defense in the first half."
Through that early stretch, the Patriots (7-6) turned the ball over six times, but the Greyhounds could not convert until the sixth one.
Lauren Peck finished off a transition goal with 18: 30 left to give the Greyhounds a lead they would never relinquish. The Greyhounds added two goals -- from Peck and Krissy Warnock -- to boost their lead to 3-0 over the next five minutes.
The Patriots found themselves playing catch-up the rest of the game. Candace Cummings and Kinsley O'Garrow cut the lead to 3-2 with 5: 18 left in the first half, but Miller started a four-goal Greyhounds run by netting a feed from Danielle Battersby with 1: 02 to go before halftime.
Jen Testrake, Battersby and Krissy Warnock scored Loyola goals before the Patriots hit their final three in the last 10: 38. After O'Garrow's first-half goal, the Greyhounds held the Patriots scoreless for the next 24: 40.
"It is hard to play catch-up against them," said Patriots center Cummings, a Maryvale graduate. "Loyola played an eight-meter sagging defense and that was kind of hard. We were trying to work the girl out, and sometimes we were cluttering it a little too much."
The Greyhounds, who have never lost to George Mason, advance to the CAA final for the eighth time in nine years and are looking for their fifth title. Their last came in 1998.