Loyola Maryland women’s lacrosse crushes Lehigh, 18-0, will face Navy in Patriot League Tournament final

There’s a reason Lauren Spence, a junior goalkeeper for Loyola Maryland women’s lacrosse, can’t remember the last time she shut out an opponent. It’s because it hadn’t happened before.

That all changed Thursday when Spence and the Greyhounds’ defense blanked an opponent for the first time in 11 years, thumping visiting Lehigh, 18-0, in a Patriot League Tournament semifinal at Ridley Athletic Complex.

The shutout is the first in the history of the tournament, and the 18-goal difference is the largest margin of victory in conference postseason history.

No. 7 ranked Loyola (16-2) has advanced to every conference title game since joining the league in 2014 and has captured seven tournament championships. The team will meet the winner of the second semifinal between No. 2 seed Navy (14-3) and No. 3 seed Holy Cross (12-5) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

The last time the Greyhounds kept an opponent off the scoreboard occurred March 23, 2013, when that squad walloped Cincinnati, 19-0. That they were able to pull off a similar feat as the No. 1 seed in a postseason setting did not go unnoticed by coach Jen Adams.

“I’m incredibly proud of our performance today, putting together four quarters of lacrosse, but at the center was down on the defensive end,” said Adams, a former star attacker at Maryland. “To have a shutout, Lehigh has such incredibly high-powered offensive players. They’ve been a nightmare for us for the last four years, five years of coaching against them. To able to shut down their offensive threats and to be able to put the ball in the back of the net like we did against such a high-profile opponent, a lot of credit to Lehigh and a lot of credit to our players for having fun today. We stepped up in a big moment.”

Spence made seven saves to anchor a defensive effort that surrendered only 12 shots to the Mountain Hawks (8-9), the No. 6 seed who took just two attempts in the third quarter and one in the fourth. She said she didn’t comprehend what she and her defensive teammates were on the cusp of accomplishing until midway through the fourth quarter.

“When you’re in there, you’re in such a zone,” she said. “I didn’t even realize because everything we do on the defense is as a unit, and I wouldn’t be able to do any of that stuff without the girls standing in front of me in the midfield and on the defensive end.”

Lehigh ended the regular season ranked ninth among 10 offenses in the conference in scoring but had scored 12 goals in a double-overtime victory over No. 3 seed Army West Point on Sunday to become the first No. 6 seed to advance to the semifinals since the league expanded the playoff format to six qualifiers in 2014. But 10 of the team’s game-high 14 turnovers Thursday were committed by offensive players, the draw unit won only one of 10 taken in the second half and the squad picked up only two ground balls.

Spence’s final save might have been her best. With less than four minutes to go, graduate student attacker Gabby Schneider got under defender and curled around the right post. She went high-to-high, and her left-handed shot was snagged by Spence’s stick to end the threat.

“When she went under, her release point was high, and I was kind of like, ‘Easy on the stick side,’” Spence recalled. “To be honest, half of the time, I don’t even think when I’m making a save. I get there, and I trust my practice and my foundation.”

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Junior midfielder Chase Boyle, the Patriot League Midfielder of the Year, said the defense’s performance inspired the offense.

“When the defense is on, that is such a catalyst for our offense,” said Boyle, who raised her nation-leading goal total to 76 by scoring twice and controlling a game-high seven draws. “I feel our offense has been a super bright spot for us this entire year, and when the defense is playing their best, obviously we’re going to continue playing our best on the offensive end, but it feels so good when we have a full-team win today, really getting it done on both sides of the field. A caused turnover on defense going into an offensive goal, there’s no better feeling than that.”

While the defense kept the Mountain Hawks under wraps, an offense that entered the game ranked ninth nationally in scoring at 15.9 goals per game continued to sizzle. Senior attacker Sydni Black amassed game-highs in goals (five) and points (seven), junior attacker Georgia Latch scored four goals, and graduate student attacker Anna Ruby, a Westminster resident and graduate, chipped in three goals and one assist.

“We do our best to not let any other opponent dictate how we handle the ball,” said Black, the Patriot League Attacker of the Year who, along with Boyle, is a semifinalist for the Tewaaraton Award, the sport’s version of the Heisman Trophy. “Today, we wanted to start that dominance, especially on the offensive end just doing our own thing. When defense comes up with big stops, it’s our job to put the ball in the back of the net on the other end, and I think we just did that very effectively today.”

Senior goalkeeper Hayley Hunt, the Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year, finished with seven saves for Lehigh.

No. 2 seed Navy 19, No. 3 seed Holy Cross 5

A few hours after Loyola Maryland held up its end of the bargain, the Midshipmen did the same in the second of two Patriot League Tournament semifinals at Ridley Athletic Complex on Thursday night.

Courtesy of a four-goal, one-assist showing by junior attacker Tori DiCarlo and a four-goal performance by junior midfielder Emily Messinese, Navy cemented its spot in Saturday’s title game by opening with five unanswered goals and then going on another five-goal run midway through the second quarter.

The Midshipmen (15-3) will play in their seventh Patriot League Tournament final in the past nine seasons of competition with victories in 2017 and 2018. They will meet the Greyhounds (16-2), who seek their 10th championship in their 10th title game appearance.

“It’s definitely something we’ve been preparing for all season,” Navy junior defender Grace Peterson said. “We know that when we play them the first time, it’s probably not going to be the last. So we’re just looking to get better all season. We had a tough loss to them earlier in the year [17-12 on March 20], but I think we’ve just improved so much every game, and we’re ready. This is our year to beat them.”

In addition to DiCarlo and Messinese, a Manchester native and Gerstell graduate, junior attacker Lola Leone came off the bench to rack up three goals and one assists, sophomore attacker Kat McAteer contributed two goals and one assist, and sophomore attacker Emma Kennedy, a Cooksville native and Glenelg graduate, scored twice.

As uplifting as that 5-0 lead was, Midshipmen coach Cindy Timchal didn’t necessarily think her team was out of the woods after watching No. 1 Northwestern cough up a five-goal advantage in the second quarter against No. 12 Johns Hopkins before escaping with a 13-12 win in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal earlier Thursday.

“We wanted to come out strong in the first quarter, and I think most teams do,” she said. “We saw Northwestern today get out to an 8-3 start, which is five goals, and then they fought for their lives. It’s a game of momentum, and we kept that momentum going.”

Junior defender Alyssa Daley controlled a game-high 13 draws. Peterson and senior defender Caroline Stefans finished with two ground balls and one caused turnover each, and freshman goalkeeper Felicia Giglio made a game-best eight saves before being replaced by junior Emma Richardell with 2:15 left in the game.

Navy began Thursday night’s game by scoring five consecutive goals in a 6:18 stretch capped by back-to-back goals from DiCarlo in a 67-second span. After the Crusaders responded with a 3-2 spurt, the Midshipmen went back to work with another 5-0 run in a 7:18 period through the meat of the second quarter.

“We were clicking right away, and what we were doing was working,” DiCarlo said. “So we knew to stick with it and just keep going harder. We have a 0-0 mentality on every play. We play with confidence.”

When sophomore midfielder Maggie DeFabio converted a pass from Leone just 55 seconds into the third quarter to inflate Navy’s advantage to 14-4, that initiated a running clock, and the game was pretty much decided.

The Midshipmen’s reward is another date with Loyola, which is 4-2 against Navy in Patriot League Tournament finals. Timchal recognized how daunting Saturday’s challenge will be.

“Obviously, they set a standard in the Patriot League by the excellence of their play, their toughness, great coaches, and the ability to have some amazing players,” she said. “They’re led by the Offensive Player of the Year and the Midfielder of the Year, and that goes a long way for the way they not only play, but how they are able to play with a lot of excellence and confidence. Our goal is to get another chance to play together as a team. So with that said, Loyola is right there for us to compete, and they’re obviously a really tough opponent to face. But we’re excited about this opportunity to compete for a Patriot League title in 2024.”

Patriot League Tournament final

Navy at Loyola Maryland

Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

TV: CBS Sports Network