Lehigh sophomore faceoff specialist Conor Gaffney keeps the ball away from his opponent during the team's game against Boston University at the Ulrich Sports Complex on April 1, 2017. Gaffney earned the Patriot League Faceoff Specialist of the Week for the third time this season on March 26. (Erik Thomas/B&W Staff)

Lehigh men’s lacrosse looks to score first win over Loyola

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As the No. 17 Lehigh men’s lacrosse team approaches the Patriot League Tournament, the Mountain Hawks prepare to take on No. 11 Loyola at the Ulrich Sports Complex on Saturday.

If Lehigh beats Loyola, it’ll be the Mountain Hawks’ first win ever over the Greyhounds, who joined the Patriot League in 2014.

The team is coming off an important win at Boston University on March 31, when the Mountain Hawks clinched their eighth straight Patriot League Tournament berth. Junior attackman and midfielder Mickey Fitzpatrick scored the game-winning goal with just over 30 seconds remaining on the clock to give Lehigh a 7-6 victory.

Junior defender Craig Chick broke the Patriot League record for career caused turnovers in the game against Boston and stands as the all-time leader in league history with 107. Junior attackman and midfielder Andrew Pettit also found individual success in Boston when he exceeded 100 career points.

The win capped off a perfect 4-0 March away record for the Mountain Hawks. It also marked their first undefeated month on the road since February 2014.

Upon returning home from its victorious road trip, the team advanced to 8-3 overall and 5-1 in league play.

Although Loyola was tabbed first in the Patriot League preseason poll for the fifth consecutive season to defend its 2017 league title, the Greyhounds (6-3, 4-1 PL) are ranked fourth in the league behind Lehigh, Navy and Bucknell University, who are tied for first.

To prepare for the upcoming matchup, sophomore midfielder Andrew Eichelberger said his teammates are continuing to do what they’ve been doing each day: showing up to compete and make each other better.

Coach Kevin Cassese said this game is different than the rest because the winner will get a first round bye in the playoffs.

“The Patriot League is a gauntlet, and all the games are big games,” Cassese said. “We expect an absolute battle this Saturday.”

Eichelberger said the Mountain Hawks are looking to host during the postseason, so beating Loyola will be important for them.

Junior defender Eddie Bouhall said in a league where any team can beat another on any given day, Lehigh’s energy and focus both have to be at all-time highs to win the contest against Loyola. Bouhall said this game will be a test for the Mountain Hawks.

Cassese said winning the top-20 matchup will require his team to play its most complete game of the season by working together to combine defensive and offensive efforts.

“We also need a great effort from our faceoff unit,” Cassese said. “Possession will be key in this game.”

The faceoff unit is led by sophomore Conor Gaffney, who earned his third straight Patriot League Faceoff Specialist of the Week award on March 26 and his 250th career faceoff win in Lehigh’s victory at Hofstra University on March 20.

Cassese said while Lehigh played hard against Boston, the team didn’t play its best lacrosse, which it hopes to do this weekend.

“We are going to continue making each other better and playing to our strengths in all parts of the game,” Eichelberger said. “We believe we can beat anyone in the country, so as long as we continue to work on our own game, we should have success.”

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