FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Loyola lacrosse team’s chatty defense gave the sport something remarkable to talk about Monday.
The top-seeded Greyhounds ground down Maryland 9-3 in the NCAA tournament final, authoring a magisterial defensive performance to earn the first national title in program history after opening the season unranked.
Loyola became just the ninth school to win a title in the tournament’s 42-year history, earning it before 30,816 at Gillette Stadium.
“A lot of people have probably never heard of Loyola,” junior long pole Scott Ratliff said. “They know exactly who we are now.”
Eric Lusby scored four goals for Loyola (18-1) and earned the tournament’s most outstanding player honor. Lusby scored 17 goals in the four-game tournament, breaking the record of 16 shared by Virginia’s Matt Ward (2006) and Dukes Zack Greer (2007).
“It’s pretty hard to explain,” Lusby said. “I just got hot at the right time.”
Lusby’s five-goal days against Denver and Notre Dame brought the Greyhounds to the precipice of a championship. Their defense, though, locked up the title.
Loyola didn’t allow a goal in the final 40 minutes, 40 seconds, and the three goals for the Terps (12-6) were the fewest for a team in title game history. It came just two days after the Greyhounds silenced Notre Dame’s balanced offense, surrendering only five goals to the Irish.
Ratliff, defenseman Joe Fletcher, defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins and goalie Jack Runkel were named to the all-tournament team, though a case could be made for the rest of the Greyhounds’ close defense as well.
“We just had to talk,” said Fletcher, who locked down Maryland attackman Owen Blye from the start. “I know it’s simple, but that’s all we had to do. We were talking the whole game. Sometimes we got tired and the crowd was loud, but if we were talking, we had our backs.”
Maryland couldn’t find an answer anywhere after seizing an early 3-2 lead. The Greyhounds received three goals from their unheralded midfield in the first half, then happily maintained a 6-3 lead for most of the third quarter.
The Terps missed their final 20 shots and did not score in their final 19 possessions. When the outcome was assured, Loyola dropped into a zone and continued to both endlessly talk and thoroughly fluster Maryland.
“As a d-middie you think you’re going to be dodged over and over again, but I got that feeling where they just wanted to keep pushing the ball around,” Hawkins said. “They didn’t really know who wanted to go, and they were kind of on their heels. Once you sense that, you get that feeling that you’re not going to be beat.”
With Runkel (six saves) anchoring the Greyhounds after stopping 21 of 29 shots on the weekend, Loyola showed little vulnerability while becoming the first No. 1 seed to win a title since 2006.
“I’m pretty sure we came in seventh in the country in defense,” coach Charley Toomey said. “Not that they felt slighted at all, but we’ve won games on the defensive end before. For them to stand as tall as they did today and be as disciplined and organized, I’m just proud of them.”
It was only the second national title of any kind for the Jesuit school in Baltimore, joining the 1976 Division II men’s soccer championship. Toomey, who played goalie on the Greyhounds’ first final four team in 1990, became the first coach to win a title in his initial final four appearance since 1992.
Loyola also became the third team to win the championship a year after missing the tournament, further cementing a rise viewed as out-of-nowhere in every corner of the lacrosse world except the Greyhounds’ locker room.
“It’s a special day for Loyola,” Toomey said. “Hopefully, it will sink in down the road. I can’t understate the excitement I have for so many.”