No. 7 Virginia bests No. 12 Loyola in OT, 14-13
Pannell leads Cavaliers with four goals, game-winner
The No. 7 Virginia men’s lacrosse team opened the 2014 season with an exhilarating overtime victory against No. 12 Loyola Thursday night at Klöckner Stadium. After watching a 12-4 lead evaporate in the fourth quarter, Virginia needed a goal with less than one second remaining to force overtime and squeeze out a win.
The game began in an unfavorable fashion for the Cavaliers (1-0), while the Greyhounds wasted no time getting on the board. Loyola sophomore midfielder Tyler Albrecht took advantage of some early game jitters from Cavalier freshman goalkeeper Matt Barrett to give Loyola the lead less than a minute into the contest.
The Greyhounds doubled their lead three minutes later on an extra man strike from junior attackman Nikko Pontrello. Although things seemed to be going downhill quickly, Virginia mounted a furious comeback to pull within one just three seconds after the second Greyhound tally. The Cavaliers ripped off two more goals to take the lead with just less than eight minutes to go in the first quarter.
The teams battled back and forth for the remainder of the first and were locked in a 4-4 tie at the end of the period. In the second quarter, however, the Cavaliers began to assert their dominance. Sophomore attackman James Pannell opened the scoring at the 13:54 mark, capping a first-half hat trick and retaking the lead in the process.
“We’ve always felt that James had the tools to be that kind of player for us,” coach Dom Starsia said. “We needed James to step up for us tonight, and he did that.”
Loyola looked poised to restore the tie immediately following Pannell’s goal when senior defender Scott McWilliams committed a slashing penalty, giving the Greyhounds a one-minute extra-man opportunity. However, Virginia’s man-down defense stood tall and allowed Loyola virtually no legitimate scoring chances. Sophomore defenseman Tanner Scales hounded the Greyhound attack, never giving them the opportunity to release a shot.
The momentum of the game clearly shifted in Virginia’s favor during the extended man-up opportunity. Barrett made a save on the crease at the 8:25 mark which boosted the confidence of the entire squad — a confidence the Cavaliers converted into possession and goals. Over the remainder of the half, the Cavaliers would score three more times, highlighted by a buzzer-beating bullet from senior attackman Mark Cockerton to put Virginia up 8-4 at the break.
“[Barrett] made some big stops for us over the course of the game,” Starsia said. “He’s a very unflappable guy, and that’s what we like about him.”
Cockerton and company began the second half in the same fashion they finished the first, with the talented senior rifling home his second goal of the night just more than a minute into the third quarter. Cockerton continued to dominate senior goalkeeper Jack Runkel, putting away Virginia’s 11th goal of the evening with three minutes remaining in the third quarter. Cockerton’s third goal proved to be the final straw for the Greyhound coaching staff, and they pulled Runkel in favor of junior Pat McEnerney.
The goaltending change clearly sparked a fire under the Greyhounds, who finally mustered a response to the Cavalier onslaught at the start of the fourth quarter, quickly burying four goals within two minutes of each other to cut the deficit to four.
“It’s stressful being out there,” McWilliams said. “They earned every goal they got. With a good offense like that, if you give them all those possessions, they’re going to turn them into goals.”
The late-game comeback was largely caused by the elevated play of Loyola freshman faceoff specialist Graham Savio. Savio — who was dominated in the first half by junior Mick Parks — won the first four faceoffs of the game’s final frame. Following the fourth unanswered Greyhound goal, Savio won the ball again, translated by Loyola’s attack into yet another goal.
“I don’t feel like we stopped playing,” Starsia said. “We didn’t let our guard down. They just started making plays.”
The Greyhounds continued their assault, scoring eight unanswered goals to eventually draw even with 2:30 to play in the game. The Loyola defense — headlined by senior Joe Fletcher, the only active collegiate player to be named to the U.S. national team — also clamped down in the fourth quarter, forcing the Cavaliers to go nearly nine minutes before registering a shot.
The Greyhounds fired a shot past Barrett to take a 13-12 lead with 17 seconds left to play, seemingly ruining the Cavaliers’ home-opener. However, Parks won the crucial faceoff, and the long-dormant Cavalier offense went to work.
With time winding down, Cockerton appeared to be stonewalled by the stout Loyola defense on the right wing. Just as it seemed that all hope was lost, Cockerton flicked a pass to Pannell, who fed junior midfielder Ryan Tucker at the top of the box. Tucker fired a rocket past McEnerney as time expired — prompting the referees to confer on the legitimacy of the goal.
After a brief meeting, the officials determined the Cavaliers had indeed forced an overtime period.
“With 17 seconds left, I don’t think anyone expected us to score,” Pannell said. “But, we kept our hopes up and kept fighting.”
The Cavaliers immediately assumed their first-half form at the start of overtime. Parks won the faceoff and Virginia never left the Greyhound restraining box. After multiple Virginia looks, Pannell took at the ball at the top of the box and unleashed a rip which easily beat McEnerney and gave Virginia the sudden-death victory.
“I can’t remember a game quite like this,” Starsia said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been part of anything like this, but it certainly is a good win for us at the end of the day.”
Virginia returns to action this weekend when it travels to Richmond for the Spiders’ first-ever Division I match. Faceoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.