FOXBORO, Mass. -- Don't let their public comments last winter fool you. When the preseason men's lacrosse rankings came out and Loyola (Md.) was not listed among the nation's top 20 teams, boy, did their players feel dissed.
"When that first ranking came out in the beginning of the season, we all felt disrespected. We play with each other every day,'' midfielder Scott Ratliff said. "It was something we kept in the back of our minds all season."
And now Loyola can stand front and center with the brand names of college lacrosse. The Greyhounds completed a near-perfect season and justified their No. 1 ranking and No. 1 seed Monday, defeating Maryland, 9-3, in the NCAA Division I championship game before a crowd of 30,816 at Gillette Stadium.
Eric Lusby scored four goals, including three in the fourth quarter for Loyola (18-1), which scored the last seven. Lusby, a graduate student who missed most of last season with a knee injury, was voted the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
He scored five goals in a semifinal win over Notre Dame on Saturday and set an NCAA Tournament record with 17 goals in four games. The previous mark of 16 was shared by Virginia's Matt Ward (2006) and Duke's Zack Greer (2007).
"We knew what we had all year," Lusby said. "This has been an unbelievable journey."
Maryland (12-6) actually dominated faceoffs, winning 12 of 15, including seven of nine by freshman Charlie Raffa, the former St. Anthony's star. "Charlie did an outstanding job," Maryland coach John Tillman said. "He showed his age a little bit at times, but he had shoulder surgery and missed most of the fall. He's still a work in progress but we're excited about what he can do in the future."
Despite Maryland's huge advantage on draws, the Terps could not capitalize. That's because Ratliff and Davis Butts played well on the wings, not allowing Maryland to set up many good scoring chances off those faceoff wins.
"We've won games like that all year," said Ratliff, including Saturday's 7-5 win in which the Irish won 13 of 14 faceoffs.
"What's key is not letting those faceoff wins turn into quick goals," Ratliff said. They did not, and on the rare occasions when Maryland got a decent shot, Jack Runkel (six saves) came up big.
"Jack stood as tall as I've ever seen him stand," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said.
So did the entire Greyhounds defense, led by Joe Fletcher, and midfield, which limited Maryland to the lowest goal total in title game history. "Absolutely, it was the greatest defensive game I've been involved in," Toomey said.
Maryland went ahead 3-2 on a goal by Kevin Cooper with 10:40 left in the second quarter. But the Terrapins went scoreless for the remaining 40:40 and Loyola took the lead for good at 4-3 on Mike Sawyer's goal off a feed from Chris Layne (three assists). It was Sawyer's 52nd goal of the season.
The fourth quarter belonged to the Greyhounds and their top dog, Lusby, who converted passes from Layne, Sawyer and Butts.
"They are very worthy champions, being the No. 1 seed and the No. 1-ranked team. They proved it all year and they proved it again today," said Maryland coach John Tillman, a good friend of Toomey's.
The two coaches met at the 50-yard line before the game. Toomey said the gist of the conversation was: "It was going to be a bittersweet game for both of us. With a win, you're so excited, but you also feel for the guy in the other locker room. He came up to me [afterward] and gave me a big hug and said, 'I'm so proud it was you.' "
No disrespect there.