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Loyola Maryland lacrosse becomes first team to clinch NCAA tournament spot

Loyola's Jeff Chase shown during a game last month.
Loyola's Jeff Chase shown during a game last month. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Coach Charley Toomey is fond of saying that his Loyola Maryland men's lacrosse team must be aware of the knowns.

The No. 11 Greyhounds can take a certain amount of comfort in knowing they are the first program in Division I to lock up a spot in the NCAA tournament after dusting Army, 14-6, in the Patriot League tournament final Sunday afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

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In a near-repeat of a 12-6 victory over the Black Knights on April 22, Loyola, the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, was convincing and overpowering on both ends of the field before an announced crowd of 964.

The Greyhounds, who improved to 12-3 and extended their winning streak to eight games, can rest easy and wait to see where their name will pop up when the 18-team field for the NCAA tournament is announced May 8. With a strong Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) bolstered by victories over No. 8 Johns Hopkins, Virginia and Army twice, the team appears to have positioned itself to host a first-round contest at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore.

"It's a special day for this program," Toomey said. "After being away for a year, we kind of felt like to be back and to be going back to the tournament, there's truly a special feeling in our locker room. … We've dealt with some things this year. We've bulled our necks at times, and I just think both sides of the ball are playing really well right now."

Loyola, which captured its second Patriot League tournament crown in three years, was fueled offensively by attackman Pat Spencer. The Davidsonville resident and Boys' Latin graduate, who became the first player in conference history to claim Offensive Player and Rookie of the Year honors outright, set a league title game record for points with 10. He tallied five goals and five assists.

Spencer's outburst tied a Patriot League tournament record of 10 points set by Bucknell's Will Sands in Tuesday's quarterfinal win against Holy Cross. Spencer, who tied Eric Lusby (2012) and Justin Ward (2014) for the school's Division I mark for points in a season with 71, registered two goals and two assists to propel the Greyhounds to a 6-2 lead in the first quarter and then added one goal and three assists in a third quarter that gave the team a 12-5 advantage.

Spencer credited offensive coordinator Ryan Moran for crafting a strategy in which Spencer initiated from up top. That forced the Black Knights to slide early and open the interior for his teammates.

"I was trying to take what the defense gave me," Spencer said. "Their defense liked to haze and get back. We knew that going in, and Coach Moran gave us a pretty crystal-clear game plan. We don't really change much up. We change a few things to tweak our offense overall, but honestly, it's just winning your one-on-one matchup and getting guys to slide and moving the ball."

Redshirt junior midfielder Brian Sherlock notched one goal and two assists, and senior attackman Zach Herreweyers, senior midfielder Tyler Albrecht and sophomore midfielder Jay Drapeau scored two goals each.

The offense got multiple opportunities courtesy of faceoff specialist Graham Savio. After claiming 10-of-20 draws in the regular-season meeting, the junior went 15-of-23 and scooped up a game-best 11 ground balls en route to being named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

Defensively, freshman goalkeeper Jacob Stover made a game-high 10 saves and surrendered a total of 11 goals in Patriot League tournament wins against Bucknell and Army. Junior attackman Cole Johnson, the Black Knights' leader in assists (37) and points (71), was held to a single goal by sophomore defenseman Foster Huggins.

"I just sat on his left hand," Huggins said. "Obviously, I had great help defense. Guys may not have slid, but they hazed and he backed out, and it made my job a lot easier. It was the team that kind of helped suppress him. It's not just me."

Army (10-6) was paced by senior attackman Connor Cook and sophomore midfielder Ted Glesener, who recorded one goal and one assist each. But the Black Knights looked like a shell of the team that had suffocated top-seeded Navy, 9-3, in Friday's semifinal round.

"I thought they were tough on the defensive end, they were exceptional offensively, and then really with Savio in the middle against two really good faceoff guys from our squad was a huge piece that going into the game, that's not what you're thinking, that you're only going to win 33 percent," coach Joe Alberici said of Loyola. "That just tilted the field in their end."

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