BALTIMORE — Scott Ratliff’s phone rang shortly into a trek from Panama City, Fla., to Atlanta, a long haul home from spring break.
The midfielder’s senior year of high school was wrapping up. After initially committing to the Naval Academy’s prep school, Ratliff hoped to begin college immediately. On the other end of the line, Loyola coach Charley Toomey offered precisely what Ratliff sought.
“As soon as he called, I knew ‘This is what I’m going to do,’ ” Ratliff said. “Then I had a seven-hour drive to think about it.”
There are no regrets and no second thoughts for either side. The top-seeded Greyhounds (15-1) can advance to the final four with a victory Saturday against Denver (9-6) in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, and Ratliff is a crucial reason why Loyola can dream of playing on Memorial Day weekend for the first time since 1998.
The junior has 11 goals and seven assists, explosive numbers even for a long pole who plays on the faceoff wings for a team eager to generate transition opportunities and well beyond Ratliff’s preseason hopes of seven goals and five assists.
“You almost have to take a double take and go back and think about what he just did,” Loyola midfielder J.P. Dalton said. “Now it’s almost expected of him. You hold a player like Scott to that standard, and the cool part about him is he doesn’t let you down.”
Ratliff provided the game-winner eight seconds into overtime in the Greyhounds’ last meeting with Denver on May 2 and scored twice in Loyola’s tournament-opening rout of Canisius last week.
Afterward, Canisius coach Randy Mearns said the last pole he could recall who could so effectively get up the field and act as an offensive threat was former Georgetown star Brodie Merrill.
Ratliff is among the first college stars to emerge from the budding lacrosse community in Georgia, though it is not hard to understand how he came to the game. Randy Ratliff was a star defenseman at Maryland, twice earning All-America honors in the late 1970s, and served as his son’s coach in youth leagues.
“From the time, I was young, that’s what I wanted to do,” Ratliff said. “I wanted to play college lacrosse like he did and be an All-American like he was.”
At the time, Ratliff was a two-way player who would play midfield on offense, run off and collect a pole and scoot back on the field to defend. Toomey figured he was worth monitoring, while Holthaus continued to pester his friend about offering Ratliff a place with the Greyhounds.
Toomey finally did in the middle of Ratliff’s senior season. It was such a quiet move that when the Loyola staff gathered to discuss ordering name plates and Toomey mentioned Ratliff, his assistants quizzically replied “Who’s that?”
They found out quickly.
“I think it took a little bit of time to get used to the speed of the game, but I know because I heard it from John Holthaus that he was shining from day one,” Randy Ratliff said. “I’m not surprised, but I think confidence has caught up with him. Now he knows he’s part of the core group.”