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Army at Loyola Maryland men's lacrosse: Three things to watch

Loyola Maryland has assumed a 5-2 lead against Army courtesy of a three-game winning streak that includes a 14-6 rout on April 22 in West Point, N.Y. This contest is a repeat of last year's Patriot League tournament final in which the Greyhounds walloped the Black Knights by an identical 14-6 score.

Army (11-3), the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, outlasted No. 3 seed Boston University, 10-7, on Friday night to advance to its third consecutive title game. The offense has averaged 11.1 goals, good enough to rank second in the conference. With four points on three goals and one assist against the Terriers, senior attackman Cole Johnson became the fourth player in school history to reach the Top 10 in career goals, assists, and points.

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Loyola (9-5), the No. 1 seed in the tourney, throttled No. 5 seed Holy Cross, 13-3, to improve to 5-1 in the postseason and for a shot at its third tournament crown in four years. The defense has surrendered only 8.8 goals per game, which ranks second in the league. Senior defenseman Jack Carrigan leads the team in caused turnovers with 24 and ranks second in ground balls with 44.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Sunday at 1 p.m.

1) Cooling off Jacob Stover. The Loyola sophomore goalkeeper has been a wall, giving up only a total of nine goals while turning aside 24 combined shots in victories over Army and Holy Cross. In both contests, Stover made eight saves each in the first half and shut out each offense for at least a 25-minute span. The Black Knights failed to solve the Hunt Valley resident and McDonogh graduate in the final 25 minutes of their regular-season meeting, and coach Joe Alberici said Army must turn up the heat on Stover.

"When you look at that first half, we were down 8-5, and I thought the difference was Stover had made a couple huge saves," Alberici said. "I don't think [sophomore goalie] A.J. [Barretto] let in anything that he shouldn't have, but that was the difference. That was clearly the difference."

2) Relying on the attack. Loyola's offense leads the Patriot League in scoring at 12.9 goals per game thanks to its attack unit of sophomores Pat Spencer and Alex McGovern and senior Zack Sirico. In their last five starts, that trio has combined for 51.6 percent of the team's goals, 61.9 percent of the assists, and 55.7 percent of the points. Spencer (Boys' Latin), McGovern (St. Paul's) and Sirico totaled seven goals and nine assists against Holy Cross, and coach Charley Toomey said the attack's success gives the midfielder time and room to become step-down shooters.

"Obviously, they're working very well together as a group," he said of the attack. "I've loved watching that chemistry develop over the year, and I see it Monday through Friday, and it's nice to see that when your test is on Saturday, they're getting those B-pluses and A's on Saturdays."

3) Helping the defense via faceoffs. Army is fully aware of how dangerous Loyola's attack is after Spencer, McGovern, and Sirico combined for six goals and five assists in their first meeting. One way to limit the Greyhounds is by keeping the ball away from via faceoff wins. Black Knights senior Dan Grabher, the conference's Faceoff Specialist of the Year, won 12-of-25 draws and scooped up seven ground balls in that game, but Loyola senior Graham Savio kept pace with 11 faceoffs and five loose balls. Alberici said a strong performance by Grabher could give Army a much-needed advantage.

"We've got to get a little more than our share on faceoffs so that we can control the tempo, and that's not an easy thing," he said. "Savio is a tremendous faceoff guy, but we're going to have to do that because I think if you give Pat Spencer and that group too many opportunities, it's going to go into the back of the net. It just is. They're that type of offense. So I would think that controlling the middle of the field, ground ball play, things that can help us get some additional opportunities so that our best defense would be our offense, I think if we're able to do that, that would help keep things in check."

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