The Loyola Maryland men's lacrosse team had recently run into a troubling trend of close scores at halftime before flipping the switch in the third quarter.
That pattern played out again Sunday afternoon in the Patriot League tournament final.
No. 1 seed Loyola broke a 5-5 tie at halftime by scoring six straight goals to open the third quarter to cruise to a 15-8 victory over No. 4 seed Lehigh before an announced 1,331 at Ridley Athletic Complex.
The Greyhounds improved to 12-3 this season and 4-0 in the conference's tournament title games. They seized the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and can sit back and wait until Sunday to find out their first-round opponent.
Until then, Loyola can pay some attention to the slow starts that have contributed to the team leading Boston University by only one goal at halftime April 14, trailing the Terriers by one Friday, and being tied with the Mountain Hawks on Sunday.
But as they did with outbursts of 10 and four goals in the third quarters in the two games against Boston University, the Greyhounds figured it out in the third frame against Lehigh.
Their 6-0 start to the quarter included a 3-0 spurt in 1:25 and then another 3-0 run in 1:26. Coach Charley Toomey joked that he wished he could say that the remedy involved fiery speeches in the locker room.
"I don't say much," he said. "We talk about staying the course. We talk about we've been here before and then the guys go out and make plays. That's all it is. It might be playing at home and having a comfort level coming out of our locker room and just getting the job done. But truly it's a belief in each other and pushing each other to play a bit harder and play better."
After a first half in which he was limited to zero goals and one assist, junior attackman and leading scorer Pat Spencer had a hand in three of Loyola's six goals. His second assist of the game on a goal by freshman attackman Kevin Lindley just 2:08 into the third quarter tied Gary Hanley's program record of 160 career assists, and the Davidsonville native and Boys' Latin graduate claimed the mark outright with a feed to sophomore midfielder Riley Cox with 8:38 remaining.
"They were shutting me off a lot in the first half, and that kind of continued in the second half," said Spencer, who finished with one goal and four assists for 162 career helpers. "We kind of really adjusted at halftime in terms of just making sure that we wanted to give those dodgers a little bit more room. So we brought [freshman attackman] Aidan [Olmstead] behind, and I kind of shifted out and made sure we had plenty of room for guys to get to space. We also started utilizing the pick game a little bit."
Usually mild-mannered, Spencer celebrated his only goal of the game with a mini head shake and exchanged words with Lehigh sophomore midfielder Andrew Eichelberger later in the third period.
"We were going back and forth all game," Spencer said. "It was just competitive. No hard feelings. Just going back and forth."
Another factor was senior faceoff specialist Mike Orefice, who won five of nine draws in the third quarter. He fed Lindley for a goal with 12:42 remaining and then capped the Greyhounds' 6-0 burst with his seventh goal of the season with 8:20 left in the period.
"One thing coming out of halftime that stood out to me when Coach Toomey brought us into the huddle was just to execute," said Orefice, who went 11 of 20 with a game-high eight ground balls. "I think that's one thing that [freshman] Bailey [Savio] and I are really good at. When things really aren't going our way, we can buckle down and just execute and do our job."
Junior attackman Andrew Pettit paced Lehigh (10-7) with four goals and one assist, junior attackman Tristan Rai chipped in one goal and two assists, and junior defenseman Craig Chick (South River) added five ground balls, two caused turnovers and one assist. But the team's inability to take the initiative in the third quarter disappointed coach Kevin Cassese.
"Just looking at them, I thought they were a little frustrated in the first half and you could see it in their body language a little bit," he said. "And we talked about that, trying to capitalize and get the first one in the third quarter and maybe we could try to build a lead like that. We had a great opportunity. The ball was sitting in Tristan's stick, and he just misses that one. That would have been a huge goal for us."
Lehigh 2 3 1 2 — 8
Loyola Maryland 2 3 7 3 — 15
Goals: LE—Pettit 4, Eichelberger 2, Rai, L.Spence; LO—Drapeau 4, Duffy 3, Lindley 3, Cox, McGovern, Orefice, Spencer, Swindell. Assists: LE—Rai 2, Chick, Gaffney, Pettit, L.Spence; LO—Spencer 4, Duffy 2, Olmstead 2, Orefice. Saves: LE—J.Spence 10, Kirst 1; LO—Stover 12.