After dispatching UMBC with relative ease in last week’s first round matchup, Penn State faced a stiffer challenge in 8th-seed Loyola (MD) and their star player, Pat Spencer. While things started off well, as PSU jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead, Loyola quickly found a rhythm of their own, winning faceoff after faceoff, and keeping the ball away from PSU for over five minutes, en route to going on a 5-0 run to take a 6-3 lead late in the first quarter.
PSU would soon recover, scoring two more goals before the end of the quarter, setting up an offensive barrage in the second quarter, which saw them outscore the Greyhounds 9-1, taking a 14-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. Loyola wouldn’t go quietly into the night however, as a once seemingly-safe 16-9 lead was whittled all the way down to 16-14 late in the 3rd quarter, which suddenly had the Loyola players, coaches, and fans thinking they could achieve the improbable comeback against the No. 1 team in the nation.
Thankfully for PSU, Mac O’Keefe ended the drought with a clutch goal towards the end of the 3rd quarter, which was then followed by a crucial penalty against Loyola, illegally checking PSU’s Bobby Burns (and knocking the wind out of him) in the final seconds of the quarter. This gave PSU a man-up advantage for the first two minutes of the 4th quarter, which the Nittany Lions would take full advantage of, by netting a pair of goals.
PSU would tack on a couple more goals in the final frame while tightening up defensively to shut out the Greyhounds, ultimately prevailing by a football score of 21-14. With back-to-back NCAA Tournament games scoring 20-plus goals, the Nittany Lions now join the 1990 Syracuse team as the only other team to do so. That Syracuse team by the way, went on to win the national championship that year (before the NCAA later vacated it, due to using an ineligible player)
Mac O’Keefe led the scoring brigade, netting nine goals, while Patrick Kelly also dished out four goals of his own. Grant Ament dropped his share of dimes with eight assists, while also adding an inside-the-crease goal, to boot. Colby Kneese also had a solid day in the net, grabbing 14 saves (six of them coming in the first quarter alone).
Pat Spencer’s final collegiate game was a valiant effort on his part, as he put up six goals and was instrumental in setting up his teammates for success. Alas, one man alone is not enough to defeat “college lacrosse’s Thanos” (h/t to College Crosse).
With the win, PSU continues to make program history, advancing to their first-ever Final Four, which will be held in Philly’s Lincoln Financial Field next weekend. The Nittany Lions will face either Yale or Penn (their game is currently in progress as of the time this post is being written) on Saturday, May 25th at either Noon or 2:30 PM ET and will be televised on ESPN2. Should they emerge victorious, they will advance to the national championship game on Memorial Day. Given the strong alumni presence in the Philly, expect a large and loud contingent of fans showing their support for a Spring sports team we can all be proud of.