Loyola is 3-2 against Denver, and the Greyhounds won all three meetings last year en route to the university’s first Division I national championship, but the combined margin of victory was five goals. And in the Pioneers’ only visit to Baltimore, they scored a 12-8 victory over Loyola on March 16, 2011.
Top-ranked Denver (9-2 overall and 4-0 in the league) has won four consecutive games, and both losses have been by a combined four goals. Senior attackman Eric Law, a former Salisbury transfer, entered the week ranked seventh in Division I in points per game (4.4) and is slowly gaining momentum as a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award.
No. 8 Loyola (9-2, 5-0) is enjoying an even hotter streak, winning five straight contests. Junior attackman Justin Ward is only two spots behind Law in average points (4.3), and the Glen Burnie native and Old Mill native has scored at least two points in each game this season.
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Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Saturday.
1) Reducing Denver’s shooting percentage. Thanks to weapons like Law (25 goals and 23 assists) and sophomore attackman Wes Berg (33, 8), the Pioneers rank third in the nation in shooting percentage. The offense has converted 35.3 percent of its shots, but opponents are scoring at a 24.0 percent clip against the Greyhounds. The onus will be on defensemen like junior Joe Fletcher and senior Reid Acton to unnerve Denver’s shooters. “I think you have to disrupt them,” Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. “We have to understand their strengths, we have to understand their hands, we have to play their picking game and not allow them to shoot with space. We understand how Denver plays and certainly Denver understands how Loyola wants to play defensively. So it’s going to be a chess match out there to make sure that we both are protecting our goalies and getting sticks to gloves and not allowing free, step-down looks because they have some terrific shooters.”
2) Adjusting to Denver’s goalie rotation. The Greyhounds are averaging 11.6 goals during their five-game winning streak, but their accuracy will be tested by the Pioneers duo of sophomore Ryan LaPlante and junior Jamie Faus. LaPlante, a left-hander, usually starts, and Faus, a right-hander, plays the second half. The challenge will be on the Loyola shooters to remember the scouting report on each goalkeeper. “You have to change your thought process,” Toomey said. “You can’t just shoot stick-side, high shots and not know who is in the goal. We have a tremendous amount of respect for both goalies, and you could have made an argument earlier in the year that they had the No. 1 and No. 2 [goalies] in the ECAC. But I really believe that our kids will come in with confidence, and we have to shoot good shots. We can’t just shoot the first shot. We can’t allow two quality goalies to see the ball and to get hot because they’re both capable of getting very hot.”
3) Neutralizing Denver’s midfield. Along with No. 4 Maryland, the Pioneers may have one of the more potent first midfields in seniors Cameron Flint and Jeremy Noble and junior Chase Carraro, but the Greyhounds may have caught a break with an Inside Lacrosse report stating that Noble will miss Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury. Even so, ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said he is eager to see how Denver’s first line of Flint (20, 6), sophomore Eric Adamson (18, 7) and Carraro (2, 1) will dodge against Loyola’s defensive midfield of senior long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff (53 ground balls and 23 caused turnovers), senior short-stick defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins (11, 7) and junior short-stick defensive midfielder Pat Laconi (15, 17). “They’re so efficient and precise and athletic,” the former Johns Hopkins midfielder said of the Pioneers’ midfield. “For Loyola, the defensive midfield is back at full strength and they’re going to be tested severely, but their defense is going to have to really step up and try to neutralize that Denver offense as much as possible. That means that [junior goalkeeper Jack] Runkel is going to have to have a big game.”