Where there’s a will, there’s Pat Spencer.
Facing a four-goal deficit with a little more than 17 minutes left in what could have been the final game of his college lacrosse career, the senior attackman for Loyola Maryland took charge. Spencer propelled the No. 8 seed to a 15-13 win over Syracuse in an NCAA Division I tournament first-round game before an announced 3,568 at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Saturday afternoon.
The Greyhounds improved to 12-4 and will meet the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 1 seed Penn State (14-1) and UMBC (7-8) in East Hartford, Conn., on May 19.
The program’s third trip in the past four years to the quarterfinals was made possible largely by the play of Spencer, the Davidsonville resident and Boys’ Latin graduate who on Thursday became the sixth player in Tewaaraton Award history to be named a three-time finalist for the distinction that honors college lacrosse’s top player.
With Loyola trailing the Orange 12-8 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter, Spencer logged one goal and three assists to fuel a 7-0 run over a 16:12 span. That gave the Greyhounds a lead they would not relinquish.
Spencer deflected a question about his personal motivations when faced with the deficit, focusing instead on the 12-member senior class.
“We’ve all talked about it all week,” he said. “We’ve got a really close group of seniors, and life moves on after this. We won’t get to see each other as much. We’re with each other all the time, and the talk of the week was seven more days. We wanted seven more days together.”
Sophomore attackman Aidan Olmstead contributed two goals and two assists, senior midfielder John Duffy and freshman midfielder Chase Scanlan added two goals and one assist each, and sophomore attackman Kevin Lindley and senior midfielder P.J. Brown scored two goals each. But there was no mistaking that every time Loyola possessed the ball on offense, it ran through Spencer’s stick.
“That’s been our M.O. all year,” coach Charley Toomey said. “Get the ball to Pat, and then let’s figure out what we need to do in that moment.”
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Spencer outplayed Syracuse’s 5-9, 185-pound redshirt junior defenseman Nick Mellen. On Olmstead’s first goal with 4:28 left in the first quarter, Spencer sprinted past Mellen and found Olmstead stationed near the opposing goal post.
A little more than three minutes later, Spencer brushed off Mellen on a drive from the right wing and fired a behind-the-head shot past junior goalkeeper Drake Porter. Then with 9:52 remaining in the second quarter, Spencer absorbed multiple checks from Mellen while moving from the right wing to the left alley before scoring.
“He’s a load, No. 1,” Mellen said. “He’s a big guy. No. 2, his vision is tremendous. He’s able to find the open guy even with a lot of pressure on him by me. Hats off to him.”
Spencer said he never felt threatened by Mellen’s presence.
“I felt like I had him from the start,” he said. “He’s a good player. I just think there were spots I was able to get to on the field, and that’s a credit to my teammates. The spacing on the field is critical. It’s tough to guard one guy no matter who it is, especially in the open field. … I’m going to be able to draw a slide and if these guys are in the right spots, we’ll make the right play.”
It proved to be a record-setting day for Spencer. He overtook former Albany attackman Lyle Thompson as the NCAA Division I’s all-time leader in assists with 226, shattered his own school record of 94 points set last spring, and became the first player in program history to break the 100-point ceiling with 103. He also took sole possession of second place in Division I history in career points with 369, trailing Thompson’s record of 400.
To be fair, Spencer had help. Senior goalkeeper Jacob Stover (McDonogh) made 10 of his 16 saves in the second half, including a point-blank stop of junior midfielder Jamie Trimboli alone in the slot with 12:16 left in the fourth quarter and Syracuse (9-5) clinging to a short-lived 12-11 lead.
Sophomore faceoff specialist Bailey Savio went 18-for-31 with a game-best 10 ground balls, and junior defenseman John Railey prevented senior attackman Bradley Voigt from adding to his team-leading 35 goals, giving up only a pair of assists.
But even Orange coach John Desko acknowledged the role that Spencer played in the Greyhounds’ victory.
“Spencer certainly played up to his potential today,” Desko said. “He’s a great leader for the group, and when he needed to kind of calm things down, he did. He took control of the game for them, and he’s a big reason why they won.”
Notes: Loyola’s win was its first over Syracuse in three postseason meetings. … The Greyhounds improved to 9-9 in NCAA tournament first-round games. … Stover has made 11 or more saves in each of his 16 starts this spring. … Scanlan upped his goal total to 42, breaking the program record of 41 goals by a midfielder set by Jay Drapeau last season. … The Orange lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since 1981-82.
Syracuse; 4; 5; ; 1; —; 13
Loyola Maryland; 5; 2; 3; 5; —; 15