Loyola Maryland owns a 3-1 advantage in this series, and Holy Cross' lone victory – a 13-12 decision – took place in Baltimore on Feb. 21, 2015. The Crusaders have more wins on the road (three) than at home (two) this season. The Greyhounds are riding a five-game winning streak at home to go 5-1 there this spring.
Holy Cross (5-9), the No. 5 seed in the Patriot League tournament, collected its first win in the playoffs Tuesday night when it upended No. 4 seed Navy, 11-7, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The offense has been fueled by senior midfielder Kevin Lux. The All-Patriot League second-team selection has 20 points on five goals and 15 assists in his past four starts.
Loyola (8-5), the top seed in the tourney for the second time in four years, is 4-1 in the conference postseason with tournament championships in 2014 and 2016. Sophomore attackman Pat Spencer became the first player in league history to earn Offensive Player of the Year honors in both his freshman and sophomore campaigns. The Davidsonville resident and Boys' Latin graduate leads all NCAA Division I players in assists per game (3.5) and ranks third in average points (5.5).
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Friday at 4:30 p.m.
1) Jacob Stover's stops. The Loyola sophomore was named the conference's Goalkeeper of the Week after making 12 saves and keeping No. 12 Army off the scoreboard for the final 25 minutes in a 14-6 rout a week ago. The Greyhounds could use another strong outing from Stover, the Hunt Valley resident and McDonogh graduate who turned aside four shots and surrendered eight goals in a 16-9 victory over Holy Cross on March 4. But coach Charley Toomey said Stover needs support from his defensive teammates.
"I think we need a repeat performance from our defense to let Jacob be the goalie that he can be," Toomey said. "I thought on Friday night, our guys battled, and when you're battling, it can get the goalie going. When there's a breakdown all of a sudden, the goalie is there to step up and close the door. Jacob showed us the guy we knew he could be and knew that he is. But it starts with the guys in front of him. You've got to play good, solid defense, you've got to give your goalie a chance to get his feet under him and to see some outside shots."
2) Graham Savio's faceoffs. The Loyola senior has struggled in his past two starts. He won only 40 percent of his draws (10 of 25) and picked up six ground balls in a 12-11 overtime loss at now-No. 18 Boston University on April 15. Then he won 47.8 percent (11 of 23) and scooped up five loose balls against Army. Not the kind of efficiency one would expect from a faceoff specialist ranked 14th in Division I in percentage (58.7 on 179-for-305) and 12th in ground balls per game (7.1), but Toomey's faith in Savio has not wavered.
"He's been our rock," Toomey said. "He's been excellent off the ground and in his decision-making. On Friday, I think he would tell you that there were a couple where once he won off the draw that he wished he could have back that would have resulted in a possession. But I know that Graham's a warrior, and he's going to battle, and he's going to fight to get Loyola the ball for every rep."
3) Loyola's man-up offense. While the Greyhounds rank 11th in the country in scoring at 12.9 goals per game, their extra-man offense ranks 27th (13-for-34). That is a somewhat surprising number for a unit paced by an attack of Spencer (25 goals, 46 assists in 2017), sophomore Alex McGovern (21 G, 18 A) and senior Zack Sirico (17 G, 12 A). But Toomey pointed out the players understand the value of possessing the ball versus taking an ill-advised attempt that could give the ball right back to their opponent.
"They've learned not to force shots," he said. "… We're not going to rush a bad shot. Our first midfield was on the field 15 times on Friday night, and we scored on 10 of those possessions. So we're pretty efficient right now. So why take a low-angled shot just because you're in extra-man and you're capable of working for a great shot when you get back to six-on-six?"