Mike Sawyer never went anywhere. The Loyola senior attackman may have blended into the background because of the development of junior attackman Justin Ward (team-leading 28 assists and 54 points) and the play of the team’s defense, but aside from sitting out two games due to an undisclosed injury, he toiled away.
But Sawyer, a 2012 Tewaaraton Award finalist and a nominee again this year, picked an opportune to re-establish himself on the national scene. His three goals powered the No. 7 Greyhounds to an 8-4 victory over No. 13 Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field in Baltimore Saturday.
Sawyer understands what’s at stake. Not only is Loyola (11-3) trying to retain the national championship it captured last season, but this is his last gasp before he and 13 other seniors graduate.
“Just being a senior, it’s kind of a last push,” Sawyer said. “Just kind of realizing that the end of the season is coming. I want to do everything I can to help my team, and it’s just brining out a little extra and just playing a little harder than I have been. Just trying to make the most of everything.”
Sawyer, who recorded 52 goals and 10 assists in 2012, leads the team in goals with 30 and ranks second in points with 36. His hat trick against the Blue Jays was his seventh of the year and his third in a row, and he has scored 11 goals in his last three contests after 19 in his first nine.
Sawyer credited his recent spurt to gaining a comfort level with schemes crafted by first-year offensive coordinator David Metzbower and playing with Ward and freshman Zach Herreweyers, who has started the last seven games.
“As an attack group, we’re finally clicking,” Sawyer said. “We’re falling into our roles late in the season, and we’re getting more comfortable playing with each other, our new styles and a new offense. Having Herreweyers on the left side is opening everyone else up.”
Sawyer may be a larger presence on the field, but his importance extends to the locker room and meeting room, according to coach Charley Toomey.
“Everybody knows he can shoot the ball awful well,” he said. “But what they don’t see is a guy who goes into the coaches’ offices and really wants to understand goalies and understand where he wants to shoot the ball. They don’t see him after practice for 20 minutes taking the extra shots. They don’t see him dragging Zach Herreweyers around campus and just kind of getting into his head and allowing a freshman to mature. That’s what seniors do, and that’s what Michael is doing right now. We count an awful lot on Michael’s leadership, but to have the last couple games that we’ve gotten out of Michael obviously mean an awful lot to the program.”
* The Greyhounds defense limited Johns Hopkins (8-5) – which had ranked sixth in Division I by averaging 12.3 goals – to its lowest output since an 8-2 loss to Navy on April 21, 2012 and shut out that unit over the final 29 minutes, 19 seconds of regulation. A key factor was Loyola junior defenseman Joe Fletcher’s play against sophomore attackman Wells Stanwick, who finished with just one assist after posting 23 goals and 21 assists. Fletcher credited a game plan organized by defensive coordinator Matt Dwan (who beat his brother, Blue Jays defensive coordinator Bill Dwan, for the first time) and Toomey. “We played better team defense. That’s all it was,” Fletcher said. “We had really good preparation. Coach Dwan and Coach Toomey helped us out with the scouting report. But just the communication with the short sticks behind me really helped me out a lot. And when I got beat a couple times where he got an open look, we were checking the sticks inside because he’s incredible at feeding the ball through the middle. [Sophomore Pat] Frazier had a pickoff, [senior] Reid [Acton] had the checks inside. It felt like we were just playing better team defense today.”
* The defense forced the Blue Jays into converting just 11.1 percent of their shots, which is also a season low. Aside from junior attackman Brandon Benn, Johns Hopkins’ other five offensive starters combined for one goal on 22 shots and one assist. Toomey said the defense executed the game plan. “We talked about managing the game, and when they stepped on the field, they were prepared for what they were going to see,” he said. “I don’t think there were a lot of things that happened out there that caught us off guard. And if it did, we quickly recognized it on-field and our guys made the adjustments and were ready for the next one.”
* The Blue Jays’ day got off to a heartbreaking start when Phil Castronova had to limp off the field prior to the start and did not play. The junior short-stick defensive midfielder returned with a walking boot on his left leg, and coach Dave Pietramala later announced that Castronova had torn his Achilles tendon. “This, I’ve never seen it in my life,” Pietramala said. “The boy was jumping up and down because he was excited, and he tore his Achilles tendon. That happened right as our Senior Day took place, and make no mistake, that took some wind out of our sails. We’re terribly sorry for Phil. A torn ACL [that sidelined him for 2012] and then this. And he came back from his torn ACL like nothing happened. He just looked at me and said, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Like it was his fault. He’ll come back from it. He’ll come back next season, and we’ll deal with it. Just so disappointed for him.”
* While Fletcher was locking down on Stanwick, Johns Hopkins senior defenseman Tucker Durkin was doing the same thing against junior attackman Justin Ward. The Glen Burnie native and Old Mill graduate registered just one assist – his lowest output of the season – and Durkin said he knew the task ahead. “Loyola’s got one of the best offenses in the country,” he said. “So we knew coming in that it was going to be a huge challenge for us, and it was going to be a huge challenge for myself – he’s a great attackman – but also for our whole defense because we defend guy with seven guys, not one guy-on-one. I thought we did a pretty decent job of limiting him for the most part, but they also got some looks that we weren’t too pleased with. So overall, I thought we did a good job on him and some of those shooters. But we can always better, and we didn’t win.”