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Postscript from Army West Point at Loyola Maryland men's lacrosse

Loyola Maryland goalie Jacob Stover makes a save against Army West Point in the fourth quarter. Loyola defeated Army, 13-4, to win the 2017 Patriot League men's lacrosse championship game at Ridley Athletic Complex on April 30, 2017.
Loyola Maryland goalie Jacob Stover makes a save against Army West Point in the fourth quarter. Loyola defeated Army, 13-4, to win the 2017 Patriot League men's lacrosse championship game at Ridley Athletic Complex on April 30, 2017. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

For the past two seasons, junior Foster Huggins has been Loyola Maryland's top defenseman, getting the plum assignments of shadowing opponents' quarterbacks. So it was somewhat surprising to see junior Ryder Harkins matched up on Army West Point senior attackman Cole Johnson in Sunday's Patriot League tournament final at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore.

Nonetheless, Harkins validated the coaching staff's decision by holding Johnson, a conference first-team selection, to no goals on four shots and no assists in the top-seeded Greyhounds' 13-4 rout of the No. 2 seed Black Knights. Harkins, who finished with two ground balls and two caused turnovers, said his strategy centered on staying on the left hand of Johnson, who entered the game as his team's leader in goals (28) and assists (18) and had scored at least one point in 49 consecutive games.

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"I knew he was a left-handed player," Harkins said. "I knew what he wanted to do. We watched a lot of film on him two weeks ago. We really worked as a defense behind the ball, getting everyone organized. I just stayed on his left hand. I knew he'd come back to it sometimes."

Coach Charley Toomey said he liked the idea of using Harkins' physical nature against Johnson.

"We just felt like it was a good matchup for us, stepping off picks and being willing to stay upfield and stay disciplined," Toomey said. "Ryder's a physical defenseman. He throws a hard chop on your arm, and we felt like we needed it when somebody takes over the ball, that physicality of taking over the ball, coming off of a pick, or making sure that your feet are always moving. And he's been getting better, but our whole defense is getting better. … We've got the luxury of being able to switch matchups within games and switching on picks within games to know that we're going to be organized behind it."

Harkins had marked junior attackman Conor Glancy in Loyola's 14-6 victory at Army on April 21, while Huggins chased Johnson. But midway through that game, the defensemen switched with Harkins keeping an eye on Johnson.

Harkins did not flinch from Sunday's task, saying, "I knew Coach had confidence in me. He wouldn't put me in that position if he didn't."

Circling back to "Three Things to Watch"

1) Cooling off Jacob Stover. In his past three starts for Loyola (10-5), the sophomore goalkeeper has surrendered only 13 goals while making 35 saves. The Hunt Valley resident and McDonogh graduate parlayed a 23-stop, seven-goals-allowed performance into being named the Patriot League tournament's Most Valuable Player. Army coach Joe Alberici said Stover is a different player from the one he saw on film earlier in the season when he was scouting other teams.

"From time to time just watching him earlier in the season, he was in and out of the lineup," he said. "Clearly was an issue for them. I think the big piece of that, though, is the defense playing in front of him. Jake is a very good goalie, a Final Four goalie, and there's not many of them out there. So he's clearly very good. But I think with his rise, there's been a rise in the Loyola defense."

2) Relying on the attack. While sophomore attackman Pat Spencer had one goal and three assists to set the program record for assists in a single season with 55, sophomore attackman Alex McGovern did not produce a goal or an assist, and senior Zack Sirico was limited to one goal and one assist by Army (11-4). Thankfully, the offense was powered by the first midfield. Senior Brian Sherlock had three goals and one assist, junior Jay Drapeau added three goals, and senior Romar Dennis chipped in two goals and one assist. Toomey said offensive coordinator Marc Van Arsdale noted in the regular-season game that Army's defense was slow to slide.

"So we needed those guys to kind of initiate and start the offense," Toomey said. "But not only are they initiating, they're scoring. Romar, he had a terrific game today. He shot the ball, he shot it on-net. That was something that the boys will chuckle with, but it's so true. He can really get us going. From 15 and 16 [yards] when he puts that on, that's a tough stop for any goalie. We're going to need that midfield play."

3) Helping the defense via faceoffs. Army senior Dan Grabher, the league's Faceoff Specialist of the Year, won 11 of 20 draws and picked up six ground balls to help his team gain the edge in that department. But the faceoffs did not translate into offensive success because of 17 turnovers and Loyola grabbing 32 ground balls to the Black Knights' 25. Alberici acknowledged that he was hoping the Greyhounds would struggle in other areas to give his team a chance.

"We needed their help a little bit," he said. "Maybe not a great shooting day or something like that. It just didn't seem like there were many of those things from them. In the second and third quarters when we were trying to make some plays offensively, it really compounded things because we were trying to make some individual plays and were maybe a little quick and the ball's back on the ground and going back the other way."

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