West Point – Buoyed by a steady offensive performance, including four goals by junior attacker Jacob Morin, a suffocating defense and great play at the net, Army defeated a steady rain, wind gusts, a slick field and, most importantly, a very good Loyola (Md.) men’s lacrosse team, 10-5, at Michie Stadium Saturday.
How dominant was Army’s defense? Army held Loyola to its lowest scoring output since the Black Knights limited the Greyhounds to five goals on May 3, 2019, a span of 47 games.
The victory over the 8th-ranked Greyhounds was Army’s seventh in a row. It puts the No. 13 Black Knights (7-1, 4-0 Patriot) in the catbird’s seat in terms of gaining one of the two top finishes in the Patriot League regular season and with that a coveted first-round bye in the conference’s postseason tournament and the right to host at least a second-round game, and perhaps, the championship round.
“Frankly, I am very happy with what all our guys did today and the effort they put forward,” said a giddy Army head coach Joe Alberici, who proudly noted that the victory was Army’s ninth win over a ranked team since 2017. “But, you can’t talk about the game without starting to talk about the defense. Our guys won their matchups. Loyola (5-3, 2-1 Patriot) is an extremely talented team that with their mids gives them six guys who can get to the goal and that makes them very dangerous. So, it was really important that we won our matchups and it was critical we accomplished that.”
In particular, Alberici noted that sophomore AJ Pilate and freshman John Sullivan again had great games. Alberici added that junior defenseman Ned Lynch had probably his best game of the year, holding Loyola’s leading scorer Matt Minicus, who had 21 scores entering the game, to just one goal. Christian Fournier “absolutely wreaked havoc” in the middle of the field, Alberici said. And, faceoff specialist Will Coletti was effective, winning 12 of 18 at the X.
“A very interesting story is that in my first 17 years, AJ Pilate was the only freshman who ever started at close defense for me and, here we go the next year, Johnnie Sullivan becomes the second freshman to do it,” Alberici said. “They are very young and with each game they seem to be getting better and better.”
While, Army was able to stay ahead of the weather today, the wet turf at Michie may have played a significant role in an injury to senior goalie Knox Dent, who went down with an apparent knee injury midway through the third quarter when he appeared to slip on the surface behind the Army goal.
“Knox was having his best game of the year today and took a couple of (potential) scores off the board,” said Alberici, adding that he is not yet sure how bad Dent’s injury is. “And, then Matt Chess came into the game and did a really good job for us.”
Chess, a junior from Lancaster, Pa., who saw limited action in the goal in two earlier games, played down his performance after the Knox injury, giving credit to his teammates for preventing many shots on goal.
“Our defense played phenomenally and were able to prevent a lot of shots on goal,” Chess said. “Even though, I felt a little nervous at first, that went away because I was so confident in how these guys were playing today.”
With the game knotted at 4-4 midway through the second quarter, Army rattled off five straight scores – two by Morin – to take a commanding 9-5 lead early in the fourth quarter. Freshman sensation Evan Plunkett, who along with Sullivan received national accolades this week as two of 30 freshmen to watch in lacrosse, assisted on two of those goals. The midfielder, from Roswell, Ga., had four assists on the day.
“I really think that all the guys on offense are contributing a lot to what is happening here,” said Morin. “Plus, I think we have the best midfielder in the country in Evan Plunkett. He plays like a senior and his play gives me and the other guys a lot of opportunities to take good shots. It is one week at a time for us. The more we play together as a group, the better we are becoming.”
Army, which remains tied at the top of Patriot League with Boston University at 4-0, faces Bucknell Saturday at West Point. While the Bison are only 2-6 on the season, Alberici and several of his players pointed out that they have recently lost to Loyola and Boston University by just two goals each.
“We feel real good about this win over Loyola today,” said Coletti. “And we want to continue to ride the momentum and keep playing well. But we are not looking past Bucknell. They are a very good team too.”