It took all of 27 seconds for the tenor of Saturday’s Mission League showdown between No. 1 Loyola and No. 2 Harvard Westlake to change. In that brief span, the Wolverines caused a Loyola turnover and started a fast break that sophomore defender Donovan Econn finished, bouncing a shot past Cubs goalie Joe Theuer.
Harvard Westlake went on to win 13-12 in overtime, with the opening sequence — a Loyola turnover and transition offense from a long-pole defender — repeating itself. The Cubs won possession to open the extra period and were cycling the ball around the perimeter when Wolverines junior defender Simon Pompan picked off a pass, ran it out of the back and fed junior attack Paul Rodriguez for the game-winner.
— Harvard-Westlake (@hwathletics) March 25, 2017
Rodriguez (4 goals, 1 assist) and senior Zac Harleston (4g) led the Wolverines, but eight other players contributed to the scoring, including two goals and two assists from long-pole defenders.
It was only the second loss to a Los Angeles-area team in two seasons for Loyola (7-2, 3-1) and the Cubs’ first since an overtime loss to Palos Verdes last season. Harvard Westlake was 0-5 against Loyola in the last two seasons, including last year’s loss in the semifinals of the US Lacrosse Southern Section North tournament.
The Wolverines (8-0, 4-0) made it clear from the outset that they would concede nothing to the defending champion Cubs. Coach Erik Krum said his players like to be scrappy, a reference more to their frenetic pace and tireless work rate than to any sort of underdog status. In this game, they knew that was the only way.
“We knew we had to out-groundball them,” Krum said. “They have so many weapons.”
According to the Harvard Westlake scoresheet, the Wolverines collected 40 ground balls in the game and caused 18 Loyola turnovers. As for the weapons, both teams were missing a starting player from the outset — midfielder Jonathan Partamian for Loyola and attack Asher Early for Harvard Westlake — and the Cubs lost another huge weapon on the game’s second face-off.
Junior face-off middie Aidan Hesse won his first two draws but went to the bench with an apparent knee injury and did not return. Accustomed to a consistent possession advantage with Hesse at the dot, the Cubs suddenly were forced to be the scrappy ones, splitting face-off duties between sophomore LSM Will Kupiec and junior middie Thomas Odahl.
“Losing Jonathan, I think we could have survived,” Loyola coach Seth Cohen said. “Losing Aidan was a big problem for us.”
Harvard Westlake won 16 of 27 face-offs in the game, with sophomore Harrison Listen winning 14 of 23 (61 percent).
All of that — the Wolverines’ face-off and ground-ball edge plus the early lead — turned the tables on Loyola, which found itself playing from behind almost the entire game. Harvard Westlake led 2-0 early, but the Cubs tied it 2-2. Harvard Westlake re-took the lead 26 seconds later, and when Loyola tied it 3-3 early in the third, it took the Wolverines only 22 seconds to go up 4-3.
Harvard Westlake led 6-5 at halftime, but the Cubs opened the second half with quick goals from Garrett Smith and Wes Priestley to take their only lead of the game, 7-6. That lasted for for a little more than three minutes before the Wolverines tied it again, one of eight ties in the contest.
After Loyola tied it up 9-9 with 8:31 to play, Harvard Westlake capitalized on a series of mistakes and questionable decisions to forge a 12-9 lead and appeared poised to coast comfortably home. Reid Hudgins started the sequence when he and Tommy Park jumped Loyola goalie Theuer on a ride. The Cubs were a man down, and Theuer elected to run the ball out himself. But the ensuing turnover led to an easy goal for Hudgins into an empty net.
Only 45 seconds later, a save by Theuer created a fast break for Loyola, but Econn disrupted a pass to a streaking Mason O’Hanlon, causing a turnover. Harvard Westlake senior LSM Shane Houska scooped up the ground ball, evaded pressure along the sideline and carried it upfield. When the Cubs defense rotated to stop his rush, he shoulder-faked a shot attempt, then dumped a pass to a wide-open Rodriguez, who walked in on Theuer and scored for the two-goal lead.
Still trailing by two and with the clock ticking under three minutes, Loyola elected to double-team the ball. Theuer left his cage to cover Hudgins in the crease, sending Niko Econn — Donovan’s older brother, who played at Harvard Westlake as a freshman and sophomore — out to double-team Listen. But before Econn could get to him, Listen rolled to his right and fired a long bounce-shot into the empty net.
The Cubs didn’t go down easily, though. Senior Ryder Mora scored a man-up goal with 1:40 to play to bring Loyola within two, and after the Wolverines couldn’t touch the ball into the box on the ensuing face-off, the Cubs took advantage with a quick re-start and an unsettled Harvard Westlake defense. O’Hanlon took a pass from Smith and ripped it past Wolverines goalie Troy Hattler to make it 12-11 with 1:10 to play. Mora tied it 12-12 it with 34 seconds left when he got a step on his defender from X and pulled a right-handed shot past Hattler.
O’Hanlon actually had a chance to win it for Loyola in regulation when he went behind the cage and got his defender hung up in the crease. O’Hanlon burst up the left side and tried to pull a back-hand shot past Hattler, but the senior goalie stuffed it and collected the rebound with seven seconds left. It was Hattler’s ninth save.
Mora (3g, 1a) and O’Hanlon (3g) led the Loyola offense, with Smith (2g, 2a) and Priestley (2g, 2a) also contributing multiple points. Robert Henderson and Dom Tragesar also scored. Senior defender Nick Mohler was credited with 12 ground balls and Theuer with 12 saves.
The rematch is scheduled for Tuesday, April 25, at Loyola. Clear your calendars.