Feb. 7, 2014

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — After more than three decades as a head coach, Dom Starsia probably thought he’d seen everything on the lacrosse field. Then came the opening game of his 22nd season at UVa, where he has won four NCAA titles.

“I can’t remember a game quite like this,” Starsia said after his team’s 14-13 victory over Loyola (Md.) on a chilly Thursday night at Klöckner Stadium.

“I’ve had some games where there’s a severe momentum swing, but not to this degree, and not with a sense of one team being able to make every play.”

At the end of the first quarter, the teams were tied 4-4. At the end of the third quarter, the seventh-ranked Cavaliers led 12-4.

Loyola’s response? The 12th-ranked Greyhounds scored nine unanswered goals, the last coming with 17.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Virginia’s response? The Wahoos tied the game on a goal by junior midfielder Ryan Tucker with one-tenth of a second left in the regulation, a play over which the officials deliberated for what seemed an eternity before ruling the ball had crossed the goal line before the horn sounded.

“Maybe I’m crazy, and I may have some bias on this,” Starsia said, “but I’m certain that the buzzer went off after the ball went in the goal. I heard it clearly. The referee was standing next to me, and so I thought they got it right on that call.”

In overtime, Loyola never had possession. Junior Mick Parks won the faceoff for UVa. The Cavaliers missed their first three shots in OT — the first by senior midfielder Rob Emery, the second by sophomore middie Greg Coholan, the third by Tucker — but the fourth found its mark.

Sophomore attackman James Pannell, who had assisted Tucker on the goal that sent the game to overtime, fired an outside shot at the cage. Loyola goalie Pat McErnerney got a stick on it, but the ball continued across the line to end an epic opener 1:44 into the extra period.

“Thank God it went in,” said Pannell, who finished with a career-high four goals and added an assist.

In the second and third quarters, the `Hoos could do little wrong at either end. Freshman goalie Matt Barrett stopped all three shots he faced, UVa’s offense overwhelmed the Greyhounds’ defense, and Parks held the edge at the faceoff-X.

In the fourth quarter, however, everything changed. Loyola (0-1) beginning controlling the faceoffs and scored five goals before Virginia even had its first possession.

“We just couldn’t get the ball,” Starsia said. “I didn’t feel like we stopped playing. There was no conscious letting our guard down, really. They just started making plays.”

The Greyhounds pulled to 12-10 at the 8:45 mark and to 12-11 about two minutes later. They tied the game with 2:30 to play. Barrett stopped a point-blank shot with 1:12 left, but Loyola retained possession. In the final minute, Virginia defenseman Scott McWilliams, an All-America candidate, deflected a pass, but the ball went directly to Tyler Albrecht, whose shot beat Barrett to give the Greyhounds their first lead since the opening quarter.

Watching that sequence, Starsia said later, “there was obviously a sense of helplessness standing on the sideline. There wasn’t a lot that we could do about it. We were fortunate, obviously, to make some plays at the very end.”

When his team needed him most, Parks delivered, winning the game’s final two draws, and his teammates did the rest against a formidable opponent. The Greyhounds were NCAA champions in 2012.

“Gotta give Loyola a bunch of credit,” Pannell said. “That was a great comeback by them. We fell asleep a little bit. It was tough. Mick was struggling a little bit, but we never give up on him. He won the last one. That was the one that mattered to get us into overtime, and he won that one, too. That’s all that really matters.”

Senior attackman Mark Cockerton, blanketed all game by Loyola senior Joe Fletcher, perhaps the college game’s top defenseman, still found a way to score three goals. Tucker and Emery added two apiece.

Tucker’s first, with 4:31 left in the second quarter, gave Virginia a 6-4 lead. His second, which was featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter, could not have been more dramatic. For a moment, it appeared Virginia would not get off a shot before time expired in the fourth quarter, but Cockerton, unable to get his hands free, passed to Pannell, who heard Tucker yell and flipped the ball over to him.

“I’ve never shot so hard in my life,” Tucker said. “I closed my eyes and let loose.”

After Tucker’s apparent goal, the officials huddled while players, coaches and spectactors waited anxiously for a ruling.

“It was crazy,” Barrett said. “Everyone was just staring at the refs, waiting to see what they saying. No one was saying anything. It was really tense. I didn’t really get a good look at the goal, so I had no idea what they were going to say.

“It was nice to see them put their hands up.”

Pannell’s game-winner in OT triggered a wild celebration on the field among UVa’s players. On Friday their attention turns to their next opponent — Richmond.

The Cavaliers meet the Spiders at 1 p.m. Saturday at Robins Stadium in Richmond. The game will be UR’s first as a varsity team.

For Barrett, it will be his second college game. He made eight saves Thursday night in his debut.

“It was a lot of fun, the whole game,” he said. “It was really competitive. It was a great way to start my career. It got a little scary at times, but overall I thought we played well.”

The fourth quarter was an adventure for all the Cavaliers, but the 6-0, 220-pound Barrett is “a very unflappable guy,” Starsia said. “It’s one of the things you like about him. He’s kind of a big teddy bear. I’m not sure this sets him back on his heels as much as it might you and I. I would expect him to bounce back and be ready to play Saturday.”