Second place is latest step forward for Loyola

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BALTIMORE – The message was rather simple as Loyola’s lacrosse team left dinner Friday night: At 3 p.m. the next day, the Greyhounds planned to be in second place of the ECAC.

A 7-6 overtime defeat of Fairfield at the Ridley Athletic Complex helped No. 20 Loyola make good on its promise.

Such is life after a miserable eight-day stretch in March. It’s how things go when you’re three games from the end of the regular season and own one victory over a team with a winning record.

It’s a life of adjusted expectations, at least in the present. No, the Greyhounds (6-3, 3-2 ECAC) aren’t thrilled to be looking up at Denver in a seven-team league. But being the only team besides the Pioneers with a winning record in the far-flung league isn’t the worst scenario, either.

“It’s not where we want to be, but we recognize the fact you can’t be in fifth place,” Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. “You have to be in first, second, third or fourth to have a chance to play in this tournament. We don’t have the resume right now for an [at-large]. We have opportunities in front of us, but right now we have to take care of conference [play]. That’s something we’re going to continue to talk about and address.”

Loyola needed a Chris Palmer goal with 2:50 left in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Then it needed a John Schiavone faceoff win and a D.J. Comer dart down the right alley in the extra session to escape the Stags (5-5, 2-2).

The Greyhounds got it all. But most importantly, it collected the second of two conference victories it direly needed to position itself as well as possible for perhaps Division I’s most random conference tournament, following up last week’s 12-9 defeat of Ohio State with other win.

Denver, the conference tournament host, upended Duke on Saturday. But beyond the Pioneers is a collection of teams whose only likely path to the NCAA tournament is via an automatic bid: Loyola, Ohio State, Fairfield and Air Force.

Loyola, which reached three of the last four postseasons, would seem like the most credible threat despite losing at home to Denver earlier this season. While hardly dominant against the Stags on Saturday, the Greyhounds are starting to look more like a team with a chance to play its way into the 16-team NCAA field.

That would be different than the team that lost to Duke, Denver and Air Force in succession last month.

“We’re really getting back on the right path,” Schiavone said. “We were down in a little hole. I’ve been here for five years and I’ve seen a lot of different stuff. It’s tough to see a team down like that and it’s even harder to bring a team out of the hole we put ourselves in.”

This victory came in much the same way Loyola earned victories in the season’s opening weeks. The Greyhounds dominated possession in the second half of a defeat of Navy and scratched out a 3-2 defeat of Towson.

This followed a similar – if not nearly as exaggerated – script of valuing possession and shortening the game, even if it isn’t necessarily what Toomey sees as Loyola’s strength.

“We are definitely a team that wants to run,” Toomey said. “We are better when we are running. When Josh Hawkins has the ball in the middle of the field or Scott Ratliff has the ball in the middle of the field, we’re going to be a pretty good team. When John’s getting the ball out at the X, we’re going to be a pretty good team.”

For the most part, Loyola couldn’t do that Saturday. Yet the Greyhounds climbed into second place – and in the process positioned themselves as best as possible to claim first when it really matters.

Patrick Stevens

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