Commentary

Loyola, Maryland meet in final

Originally Published: May 26, 2012
By Marc Thaler | Special to ESPN.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Let's start with a simple truth: Eric Lusby has unquestionably made a name for himself this spring, particularly during the 2012 NCAA men's lacrosse tournament.

[+] EnlargeEric Lusby
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesEric Lusby scored five goals to lead Loyola in the Greyhounds' 7-5 win over Notre Dame.

How to limit Loyola's sniper, part of a sensational attack, isn't nearly as clear. But the task is now Maryland's to figure out, on Memorial Day, because Notre Dame couldn't do it.

Lusby unloaded early early and often on the Fighting Irish in Saturday's Division I national semifinals at Gillette Stadium. A year after missing all but two games with a torn ACL, the graduate student from Severna Park, Md., consistently found cracks in the country's No. 1-ranked defense, buried five shots for the second straight tournament game, added an assist to his scoring column, and flat out fueled a 7-5 win that punched the Greyhounds' ticket to Monday's 1 p.m. ET final (ESPN/ESPN3).

"I'm just playing confident right now. The past two games, I've had a pretty good shooting percentage," said Lusby, forced to sit out his 2011 season as a medical redshirt. "I see the net and I shoot for net. I don't really try to pick the corners. When I see an opening, I'm putting the ball where I want to."

While Lusby answered postgame questions, the Terrapins began their four-quarter dismantling of the Blue Devils. Midfielder Drew Snider (four goals) led the hot-shooting and unseeded Terps, 16-10 winners.

How's this for deja vu? As an unseeded squad last year, Maryland ousted the same ACC rival in the semifinals. Scoring goals at a 55-percent clip this time around bumped the Blue Devils, national semifinalists for the sixth consecutive season. The Terps needed just 29 shots to net 16 markers.

"We were finding each other in good spots on the field," said Snider, who finished 4 of 5 shots. "We all felt really comfortable with our offensive game plan. I thought we were very organized. And we feed from our defense, honestly."

Now, Loyola (17-1) and Maryland (12-5) -- two programs whose campuses are separated by 35 miles -- meet for the title. The Terps seek their third national championship (1973, 1975). Unranked when the season started, the Greyhounds are sniffing for their first.

"They are obviously the No. 1 seed for a reason," second-year Maryland head coach John Tillman said of the '12 Greyhounds, representing a program whose only previous championship appearance, in 1990, ended with a 21-9 loss to Syracuse.

Loyola head coach Charley Toomey played for those '90 national runners-up.

"What a great day for the Greyhounds," said Toomey, whose program lost its previous four matchups with the Irish, a skid that dated back to 2007. "It's a special feeling when you get to coach a group of guys that give you everything."

Lusby -- now with 67 points (50 goals, 17 assists) this season -- wasn't Loyola's only focused star. Goaltender Jack Runkel turned back a career-high 15 shots, including 11 in the second half.

He'll need a similar effort against the Terps. Snider and attackmen Joe Cummings (goal, three assists), Billy Gribbin (two goals, assist) and Owen Blye (three goals) contributed to the offense's unselfishness and ability to answer quickly.

"We've kind of been picked on the last few weeks about being a stall team," Tillman said. "We never use that terminology, saying, 'Hey, we need to stall to win.'"

The Irish certainly weren't the hot-shooting team that arrived at Gillette averaging 12.5 goals per game. The 31,774 in attendance instead watched them struggle mightily to score in 6-on-6 play.

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AP Photo/Gretchen ErtlMaryland gets a chance at redemption in the national championship game after beating Duke 16-10 on Saturday.

Shot selection was often problematic. Those troubles contributed to a pair of lengthy shooting droughts that cracked 20 minutes. Notre Dame (13-3) gave no reason for Loyola to gamble with early slides. Defenders in front of Runkel, understanding the Irish preach patience on offense, simply held their ground.

"We talked about not just trying to shut down one guy, or stop one set," Loyola long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff said. "They go to three or four different sets that we were prepared for."

Defensive midfielders Josh Hawkins (goal) and Pat Laconi were crucial to strong perimeter play. It was necessary, considering Liam O'Connor won 12 of 13 faceoffs. The Irish were 13 of 14 at the faceoff X.

The Irish also owned the advantage in ground balls (28-25), and matched the Greyhounds in shots (28-28).

It's obvious where Loyola created separation, right?

Loyola was limited in transition opportunities. Attackman Mike Sawyer, himself a 51-goal scorer, recorded just one assist.

But the offense was poised in settled situations. Skip passes often left Irish defenders a step behind -- and placed All-American goaltender John Kemp (13 saves) in a tough spot.

The national finalists did not meet this season. So here's something for the Terps to consider, as they prepare to erase last year's near-No. 1 finish:

"Those guys are really good on the back side," Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan said of Lusby and Sawyer. "When they can skip the ball and get those [scoring] opportunities … those are tough saves for a goalie to make."

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