The Mission League Championship game Saturday did not disappoint. No. 3 Loyola mounted a four-goal comeback, scoring the game-winning goal with 10 seconds to play to beat host No. 2 Harvard Westlake 12-11 and to lay claim to its fifth consecutive league championship.
The win was the Cubs’ eighth in a row this season, a streak that started after their 10-8 loss to Harvard Westlake on March 20. The Mission crown was the fifth in a row for Loyola (12-4, 5-1), the fourth outright title and second since the league adopted a tournament.
“This is a huge rivalry game,” Cubs coach Seth Cohen said. “[Harvard Westlake] is a very good team. We’re really happy with this win. We’ll take the Mission League Championship for the second year in a row.”
Until the final three minutes, though, it appeared the No. 2 Wolverines (10-4, 5-1) would break Loyola’s streak.
The Wolverines had led 5-3 at halftime and 10-6 after three quarters. Loyola cut it to 10-8, but HW responded with a little more than five minutes left and held an 11-8 advantage until the final three minutes of the fourth.
Then the Cubs made their move, scoring four goals in the final two-plus minutes. Sophomore Owen Gaffney (3g, 1a) tied the game with 27 seconds left. After HW won the ensuing face-off and blocked a Wolverines’ shot, the Cubs scooped up the ground ball and threw a length-of-the-field clearing pass.
Junior Matt Garvey (3g, 1a) grabbed it one one hop, won his one-on-one matchup in a breakaway and gave Loyola the lead with 10 seconds to play.
“It was just lucky,” Gaffney said. “A good bounce, and a kid just came to me, and I ran right past one defender.”
The fourth quarter was a far cry from the first three for the Cubs. After a 2-2 first quarter, with Julien Roa (3g) scoring twice for the Wolverines and Kaiser Fry (2g) and Garvey scoring for the Cubs, Harvard Westlake put the clamps down in the second quarter. The Wolverines outscored the Cubs 3-1 to go into the half with a 5-3 lead. Harrison Listen (4g), Asher Early (1g), and Roa all had goals in the second.
Harvard Westlake began to assume control in the third quarter, scoring five goals to extend their lead to 10-6 with one quarter to go. Brody Listen (2g, 1a) and Owen Hudgins (2g, 1a) led the charge in what seemed to be Harvard Westlake’s game.
But Loyola had other plans.
“We’ve got a lot of grit,” Cohen said. “We’ve got a lot of depth, and I think we used it well, maybe it took us all the way until the fourth quarter for it to finally pay off, but I think we broke through finally playing a lot of guys.”
An unsung hero for Loyola in the fourth quarter — and another example of the team’s depth — was senior goalie Cam Bieler, who had four saves and allowed only one goal after subbing in for Will Parducci.
“We’re really fortunate to have two great goalies on our team,” Cohen said. “It wasn’t [Parducci’s] day, he wasn’t seeing the ball so great, and we just had to make a change. I thought [Bieler] played really well in the fourth quarter, and we were able to get the ball when we needed it.”
Loyola heads to Palos Verdes on Tuesday to face the top-ranked Sea Kings in a game that, as it often does, likely will decide the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds when the LA Championship Tournament brackets are selected in a few weeks.
“Honestly, I have to put this in my rearview mirror and start focusing on PV,” Cohen said. “We’re going to celebrate this win tonight. Our guys fought back and showed a lot of grit and deserve to enjoy it. Monday, we’ll get back down to business and do what we have to do. There’s not a lot of time to dwell on what happened, good or bad.”
Meanwhile, Harvard Westlake begins its spring break with a return to action April 24 at Orange County No. 5 Foothill.