Loyola Maryland coach Charley Toomey joked that his heart couldn't take much more stress after the No. 2 seed Greyhounds edged No. 3 seed Bucknell, 7-6, in double overtime in Friday's Patriot League tournament semifinal at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
But he acknowledged that tight contests like that one can season and fortify a team eager to extend its season into the NCAA tournament.
"What I talked to our team about in the locker room was, you have to win these kinds of games to mature and go through these moments to prepare yourself for hopefully May," Toomey said. "And then all we talked about was how special it is to continue to move forward with each game, the magnitude of the game, but also what goes with being in a Patriot League championship game and hopefully what goes with possibly being in a first-round game. It intensifies, but it's more special for the student-athlete. I'm real proud of my locker room."
Loyola (11-3), which improved to 5-1 in one-goal decisions after losing six one-goal games last spring, has won seven straight. Senior attackman Zach Herreweyers said the team was emboldened by its 13-12 win against Boston University on April 16 that entailed rallying from a 12-10 deficit in the final six minutes.
"After BU and that effort, it was kind of more of looking at each other and knowing we can do this when it's a one-goal game like that and we need the goal," said Herreweyers, who scored two goals including the game-winner against the Bison with 5.3 seconds left in the second extra session. "You look around and you don't see anyone that's kind of nervous like last year. You know the guys are confident with the ball in their sticks and ready to make a play if they have to."
1) Containing Bucknell's Will Sands. Sands, the Bison's first 60-point scorer since Billy Eisenreich finished with 66 in 2012, notched two goals and one assist on Friday night. It was quite a departure for the sophomore attackman from the team's 14-3 setback to Loyola on March 26 when he was shut out by sophomore defenseman Foster Huggins and turned the ball over five times. Bucknell coach Frank Fedorjaka said Sands played with a greater sense of determination.
"He went harder," Fedorjaka said. "He ran hard, and he ran with confidence. He kept us in the game in the first half. It was the Will Sands show."
2) Battling Bucknell on faceoffs. Freshman Jarett Witzal broke Jake Clarke's single-season record of 163 faceoff wins with 165. But Witzal went just 6-for-16 onl draws against Loyola. As strong as junior Graham Savio's 11-for-17 outing was, Toomey said the key was preventing Bison senior long-stick midfielder Alex Spring (73 ground balls) from pouncing on loose balls.
"We were so worried about No. 2 [Spring] picking up the ball," Toomey admitted. "… I think if you look at your stats, No. 2 didn't have a ground ball tonight. Our kids did a terrific job. [Junior long-stick midfielder] Ryan Fournier off the wing at the faceoff X really took him out of the game. I think that our wing play has really given us an opportunity. And when you keep the wings off of Graham, he's as good as anybody in this league."
3) Putting on Showtime. Loyola couldn't get its transition game untracked, which may have contributed to the offense's second-lowest output of the season. But the team opened the scoring with a fastbreak goal from sophomore long-stick midfielder Zac Davliakos (Severn) with 13:04 left in the first quarter, and Toomey said the tally set the table for the Greyhounds.
"That's just who we are," he said. "Fournier has a one-on-one with the goalie in transition, too. We're not going to tell those guys not to take those opportunities, and we needed every one of them tonight. That's a fun way to play lacrosse. We don't want to go down and play six-on-six and play with timer-ons. That's just not how we play, but we're prepared to play that way."