FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Goalie Jack Runkel came up every bit as huge as his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame. Loyola will be playing on Memorial Day largely because of it.
Runkel saved a career-high 15 shots and Eric Lusby authored an encore performance of a week earlier with a five-goal outing as the top-seeded Greyhounds bested Notre Dame 7-5 to advance to Monday’s NCAA title game.
Loyola (17-1) will face unseeded Maryland (12-5) in the championship game. It will be the Greyhounds’ first appearance in the final since 1990.
“I felt like we just did a good job of digging in,” coach Charley Toomey said. “Notre Dame wasn’t going to allow it to be a game where we were able to run and have 40 shots. They wanted to make it this type of game.”
For as much as the showdown between the prolific Loyola offense and stingy Notre Dame defense was hyped all week, this was decided far more at the other end of the field.
Runkel didn’t even begin the season as a starter, taking over after the third game. Rarely did the burly sophomore look as strong as Saturday.
Facing a balanced offense, Runkel made a few stops early and plenty late to stymie the Fighting Irish (13-3).
“My defense was giving me shots to see and a very clear line from the shooter,” Runkel said. “So I think any goalie would gobble up those saves.”
Notre Dame played its part, too.
The Irish entered the postseason as the worst shooting team in the 16-team field, and it seemed their inability to run an efficient offense would doom them in the postseason.
It didn’t in the first two rounds. Quite the contrary; Notre Dame shot 43 percent in its first two NCAA tournament games to clinch its third final four trip in program history.
The Irish returned to form, both for the season and recent history. Notre Dame lost 6-5 in the 2010 national title game and 7-5 in last year’s quarterfinals.
“You’re not going to win many games this time of year with five goals,” Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said. “I think Notre Dame lacrosse is a testament to that since we sit here for the third year in a row without a trophy.”
Lusby did enough for the Loyola offense, shredding the Irish off the back side repeatedly. He added an assist and contributed to all but one of the Greyhounds’ goals.
That one was Josh Hawkins’ transition goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter, and Loyola quickly scored in the second half to turn a taut 4-3 game into a 6-3 lead.
The Greyhounds’ defense took over from there. Runkel made 11 stops in the second half, helping to lock down the Irish and lock up an extra — and final — game to Loyola’s season.
“He was as big as he’s ever been down in there for us,” Toomey said. “When there was a breakdown, runkel was right there to pick up the pieces. … Definitely played his best game as a Greyhound.”
• Patrick Stevens can be reached at email@example.com.
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