Toomey and the Greyhounds scoured plenty of film of Penn State and knew the Grant Ament-to-Mac O’Keefe connection that had tormented so many others would be as stout a test as they had faced all season.
And it was — enough, even, to negate a stellar day from senior attackman Pat Spencer (Boys’ Latin) in his final college game.
“We felt like we had a good idea of what they were going to do,” Toomey said. “Everybody told me when you think you have an idea, it’s a different animal when you see it live. Quite honestly, it was. They move the ball. They share it. They have unbelievable shooters.”
O’Keefe matched an NCAA tournament record with nine goals and Ament added a goal and eight assists as the top-seeded Nittany Lions earned a 21-14 victory over eighth-seeded Loyola at Rentschler Field. Penn State (16-1) will make its first semifinal appearance Saturday against either fourth-seeded Penn or fifth-seeded Yale.
Spencer set a career high with six goals and added five assists as Loyola (12-5) darted to a 6-3 lead, then barely had the ball for much of the second quarter as the Nittany Lions built a 14-7 advantage.
Penn State’s pinpoint passing — and the 17.8-goal average it had entering the quarterfinals — is a headache for any opponent, and Loyola was no different. The Ament-to-O’Keefe pairing was especially strong, producing six of the Nittany Lions’ goals.
“Kid’s got a good shot,” Loyola goalie Jacob Stover (McDonogh), who matched a career high with 19 saves, said of O’Keefe. “It’s hard to replicate during practice when you’re seeing that type of speed, that type of look. At the same time, our guys on scout ‘O’ during the week gave us good opportunities, good looks. It was tough at first to get settled in. We were kind of jittery at first. I thought we battled back. It was a slugfest, and we knew that’s what it was going to be.”
It was close because Loyola had Spencer, a Tewaaraton Award finalist who carried the offense for the stretches when it did have the ball. The Greyhounds didn’t have a shot in the first nine minutes of the second quarter as Penn State created separation.
But with some chances to run its offense, Loyola rattled off five goals in a row, including four by Spencer to close within 16-14. A two-minute nonreleaseable illegal body-check penalty late in the third quarter halted the Greyhounds’ rally, and they managed just six shots in the last 15 minutes.
“Truth was, we really felt like when we had the ball on offense, we could give ourselves a chance today,” Toomey said. “I thought that showed in the first and third quarters. We just couldn’t get the ball down there enough and give the ball to Pat and let him do his thing.”
Even with the outcome, the game only burnished Spencer’s place as one of the sport’s top players. He closed his career with 149 goals and a Division I-record 231 assists. His 380 career points rank second in Division I history.
He finished with 49 goals and 65 assists as a senior, and the 114 points are tied for eighth on the Division I single-season list.
“I’ve been surrounded by great people, great coaches for four years and it sucks that it ends like this,” Spencer said. “I’m just grateful for all the support from everybody. I had a blast. It’s kind of surreal right now that it’s over, but thankful for all the people who have been a part of this for me and pushed me and made me better.”
Few teams in the country will have two bigger holes to fill than Loyola. On one end of the field was Stover, who recorded at least 11 saves in every game this season. At the other was Spencer, the centerpiece of the Greyhounds offense since he arrived on campus. They shared in three Patriot League tournament titles, four NCAA tournament appearances and three trips to the NCAA quarterfinals.
“They put this program back with the elite,” Toomey said. “To reach this stage three times in their career in my opinion is pretty doggone impressive.”
NCAA DI men’s lacrosse final four
at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
» No. 2 seed Duke vs. No. 3 seed Virginia, noon
» No. 1 seed Penn State vs. No. 5 seed Yale, 2:30