March 10, 2012

Loyola Proves Staying Power in Win Over Duke

by Gary Lambrecht |

BALTIMORE – The Loyola University men's lacrosse team won its first four games of the season by wearing down its opponents with a relentless offense, led by the outstanding attack tandem of Mike Sawyer and Eric Lusby.

But on Saturday at the Ridley Athletic Complex, the ninth-ranked, unbeaten Greyhounds made that formula work against its first marquee opponent of 2012. With Sawyer and Lusby leading the way, Loyola spent two hours pushing around and running by No. 11 Duke, to the tune of a 13-8 victory that was not as close as the score indicated.

Sawyer, the junior from Waxhaw, N.C. and Loyola's leading scorer, was nearly unstoppable, as he torched the Blue Devils for a career-high six goals and two assists. He needed only 12 shots to get his job done. Lusby, the left-handed graduate student out of Severna Park, Md., finished with three goals and two assists.

Together, Loyola's top offensive threats out-scored the Blue Devils (3-3) by themselves. And they served to underscore the way Loyola (5-0) manhandled Duke all over the field, on a day when the Greyhounds never trailed.

This Duke team is struggling with youth, an inconsistent offense and a lack of identity. But they are still the Blue Devils, who won the NCAA title two years ago and have been to five consecutive tournament final four weekends. On Saturday, just three days after going to Ann Arbor and blowing out a Michigan team in its first year of Division I existence, the Greyhounds made Duke look ordinary.

"There aren't many wins that are as sweet as that one," said Loyola coach Charley Toomey, whose team is 5-0 for the first time since 2002 and has scored at least 10 goals in its first five games for the first time since 2001. "We only had 48 hours to prepare for Duke after being on the road. Today was our day. We weren't going to allow Duke to go on any of their kind of runs."

Not with Sawyer and Lusby sparking an offense that is averaging a cool 13 goals and knocked out Duke starting goalie Dan Wigrizer late in the first half, after Lusby had turned a Sawyer feed into a 7-3 lead.

Not with the Greyhounds beating the Blue Devils to the punch all afternoon at key moments. And not with a defense that put the clamps on leading scorers Jordan Wolf (one goal) and Josh Dionne (one goal, one assist) and rode a 12-save effort by sophomore goalie Jack Runkel.

Only Duke's patented transition game, which produced fast-break scores by defenseman Chris Hipps and face-off specialist C.J. Costabile, kept the game from turning into a rout early. But the Blue Devils never established any rhythm in their six-on-six offense, and Duke went down with a whimper in its extra-man game. The Blue Devils were 0-for-4 and are 2-for-23 this season with a man-up advantage.

"Loyola really wanted to beat Duke. They were really hungry. It was obvious," Duke coach John Danowski said. "We had a great week of practice. We just don't seem to have the offensive leaders right now. We needed a little more ball player and a little less athlete today. We needed guys to make big lacrosse plays like Loyola made."

Loyola established its presence early and often by staging three separate, 3-0 runs to gain and maintain separation from Duke, which could not adjust to the line of shooters who peppered the cage. The Greyhounds, who shot 13-for-37, got two goals from second-line midfielder Phil Dobson and single goals from starting midfielders Sean O'Sullivan and Chris Layne.

But it was mainly Sawyer's show, with Lusby offering strong support. And from the second quarter on, they gradually overwhelmed Duke.

After Costabile had completed a 2-0 run to cut Loyola's lead to 4-3 with 11:13 left in the first half, Sawyer ripped a 12-yarder past Wigrizer, then scored again six minutes later off a perfect pass from Lusby to make it 6-3 with 4:11 to go. One minute later, Sawyer fed Lusby for an EMO goal to increase the lead to 7-3.

Duke got a halftime lift after Dionne scored with 14 seconds left in the half, but Loyola threw down the hammer in a lopsided third quarter dominated by Sawyer and Lusby. First, Sawyer scored on an empty netter against goalie Mike Rock, then fed Lusby for a 9-4 lead with 6:38 left in the quarter. Dobson then scored on a 15-yarder from up top to make it 10-4 – producing Duke's largest deficit of 2012 in the process.

Sawyer later extended that deficit to eight goals, when he poured on his sixth goal, off a Lusby pass, to stake the Greyhounds to a commanding, 13-5 lead with 11:35 left in the game.

"[My success] has a lot to do with Eric and Sean. You can't just slough off on me or Eric," said Sawyer, who leads Loyola with 18 goals. "There are so many threats at the offensive end. It's a lot of options."

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