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The Loyola Greyhounds men’s lacrosse team defeated Ohio State Saturday afternoon at Ridley Athletic Complex, 8-7. The ‘Hounds now 9-0 have not gotten off to such a hot start since 1999, in the days of All-American midfielder Mike Battista, when the team went 12-0 in the regular season. This year’s undefeated team is spearheaded by juniors Mike Sawyer and Scott Ratliff, who proved their value in Saturday’s contest.
During the course of a season there are ups and downs, great games and poor games. Loyola did not play to their full potential versus the unranked Buckeyes, but they did what was needed to etch another “W” on the season schedule. Attackman Mike Sawyer did not lead the team in goals or points in this particular game, but he has been the most consistent player on offense all year. His two goals came at critical points in the game, one to start the game and one to tie the game at 3 before the half. Not to discount fifth year senior Eric Lusby (Severna Park) and his hat trick against the Buckeyes, but Sawyer has provided Loyola with just enough scoring output to keep their undefeated season alive.
Long stick-midfielder Scott Ratliff has had himself a tremendous year, playing with supreme confidence while guarding some of the best midfielders in the country and having one of the best offensive sticks as a long pole in the country. Ratliff showed his offensive skills Saturday, scoring the first goal in the second half, bouncing a shot past Ohio State goalie Greg Dutton (Calvert Hall) in a fast break situation. You will see Ratliff play an integral role when the Greyhounds are pushing the ball in transition, sometimes even staying in for a minute or two on the offensive end (similar to former Maryland and Boy’s Latin star Brian Farrell).
It looked as if Loyola had sealed the game shut after they took an 8-5 lead on Lusby’s third goal with 1:09 left in the game. Ohio State could not gather firm possession of the ball until there was 20 seconds left on the game clock. Buckeyes coach Pat Myers called an eyebrow raising timeout with 15.4 seconds left. Purely a situational teaching point timeout, it seemed. Myers would prove that in a one goal game, his team had the means of scoring in such a short time frame. Not only did the Buckeyes score within five seconds coming out of the timeout, but they won the ensuing face off and put in another goal with 3 seconds remaining, bringing the score to 8-7. Loyola would waste the final seconds off the clock on the face off, exhaling from a late comeback effort on behalf of the feisty Buckeyes.
Ohio State was far from spectacular, more opportunistic in taking advantage of Loyola’s sub-par performance. Nonetheless, the Buckeyes rode the strong play of Dutton, who is one of the most confident and acrobatic goalkeepers in Division I lacrosse. The Ohio State defense, led by senior Joe Bonanni (St. Mary’s) stalled the Loyola attack for most of the game, keeping the ‘Hounds under 10 goals for the first time this season.
The Ohio State offense was led by two Canadian born players, junior midfielder Jesse King and freshman attackman Logan Schuss. The British Colombian natives contributed on all but two of the Buckeyes goals. Otherwise the Ohio State offense was rather stagnant, lacking any real threats from a dodging perspective. Three goals came from running a half-baked offensive set, where the ball carrier relied on a curling cutter to find inches of space in front of the goal. Fortunately, the awkward attacking scheme caught Loyola defenders off balance in the first half.
It was the third quarter that would cost Ohio State the game. The game was tied 3-3 at halftime but the visiting Buckeyes failed to score their next goal until 45 seconds into the fourth quarter, while allowing three goals from Loyola in the same time period.
During the third quarter, the momentum swing came on a key strip from Ratliff near the restraining line, who found midfielder Josh Hawkins running free into Ohio State territory. Hawkins weaved through two defenders and dove as he approached the crease, finishing a nice low and away shot on the vulnerable Dutton. This gave the Greyhounds a 5-3 lead and showed the visiting team the athleticism and transition game that make Loyola so dangerous.
Despite the narrow escape, the difference between the two teams was evident to any on-looker. Loyola when they were trying to be, were sharp on offense, as they have been all year. They have crisp stick work and they do not second guess themselves when they shoot. Lusby and Sawyer are no-nonsense players, they are not trying to look pretty or dodge with flair, instead the two upperclassmen simply get the job done. Loyola excels when they are provided with hands-free shots inside 12 yards. Especially Sawyer, who rarely misses a time-and-room type shot. Accuracy when shooting comes from muscle memory, not from aiming while looking at the goal.
Lusby and Sawyer are a great example for younger players to watch when they set themselves up to shoot. They prove that it is about feet, body control and loose hands. If you’ve taken a shot thousands of times in your life, you don’t need to stare at the spot. You recall the position of hands and feet and let it go.
This shooting ability was not on display from Ohio State, albeit they put the ball in the net just one less time than Loyola. From an offensive standpoint, the Buckeyes looked timid to shoot, and were not particularly flashy in any department. Toughness was their style and it nearly payed off. Besides the two British Colombians, Schuss and King, a third Canadian personified the hard nosed mentality of coach Pat Myers and the Ohio State team. Freshman Turner Evans from Ontario scored the opening goal in the fourth quarter to cut the Loyola lead to 6-4. Evans hung in while being harassed by the athletic Hawkins, persisting to find himself running open across the face of goal and finishing with a laser past Greyhound keeper Jack Runkel’s head.
In summation, Loyola played down to their opponents level, luckily they were at home and had the support of their fans, otherwise this may have been a different story. Loyola was the superior team although at times they didn’t show it.
The Greyhounds now have conference opponent and 15th ranked Fairfield on deck, followed up by a trip to Colorado to play #10 Denver on April 14th. If Loyola can survive those two games, they will be staring their Charles Street rivals dead in the eye for a potential match up of undefeated teams come April 28.
Loyola will have the week off in preparation for their trip to Connecticut. Fairfield is 9-1 and would love nothing more than to knock off a 4th ranked Greyhounds squad to boost their NCAA tournament resume. The game is at 1 p.m. on April 7.