Pioneers Can’t Complete Comeback, Fall in First-Round Heartbreaker to Loyola

The 7th-seeded Denver Pioneers trailed 9-4 at halftime. They looked lost and thoroughly beaten after 30 minutes of lacrosse. The Loyola Greyhounds had full control of the game but as soon as the second half started, everything changed. TD Ierlan won all of his second-half faceoffs, the offense woke up, Jack Hannah led the offense with a hat trick, and the Pioneers were playing vintage Denver lacrosse. But it wasn’t enough. The Greyhounds’ seven-goal second quarter was too much for the Pioneers to overcome and despite their best efforts, they fell 14-13 at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium.

Denver started the game hot, scoring the opening goal and going into the second quarter tied, but it was like a switch flipped for the Pioneers and they forgot how to play lacrosse after the first quarter ended. The Greyhounds were able to execute anything they wanted while the Pioneers were somewhat lucky to score their two to go into halftime down five at 9-4.

As terrible as the second quarter was, the third quarter was equally as great for the Pioneers. The switch flipped back and the Pioneers played excellent, near-perfect lacrosse and pulled back to within one heading into the final quarter. Jackson Morrill had a third-quarter hat trick, Jack Hannah added two of his own after Kyle Smith opened the second half scoring just 44 seconds into the third quarter. The Pios’ defense played lights-out and goalie Jack Thompson made some key saves. It was the polar opposite of the second quarter and was so necessary for the Pios.

The fourth quarter, though, put the exclamation point on the thriller. Despite questionable, at best, officiating in the biggest moments of the game, the Pioneers and Greyhounds matched each other possession for possession, goal for goal, and turnover for turnover. Both teams scored three in the fourth, with Loyola opening up a 13-10 three-goal lead at one point only to see Denver storm back to make it a one-goal game again. Ethan Walker woke up in the fourth quarter, scoring Denver’s 11th goal and nearly adding a few more throughout the final quarter. Ted Sullivan and Jack Hannah kept the Pioneers within reach with goals in the final six minutes, including Hannah’s coming with just three minutes left to pull the Pioneers back to within one.

Ierlan put his stamp on the game throughout the second half, winning every second-half draw, and once again showing the lacrosse world why he’s one of the two greatest faceoff specialists in the history of the game. It was his performance that gave the Pioneers plenty of hope that they would be able to complete the comeback and kept the Pioneers in the game all the way down to the final possession.

To Loyola’s credit, though, they were the beneficiaries of incredible goalie play from Sam Shafer, especially in the waning moments of the game and the final possession of the game. Denver forced a Loyola turnover with 16 seconds left, pushed the ball down the field and Alex Simmons and a Grade-A look on the doorstep, a look that a player like Simmons nearly always finishes, but Shafer made the low-percentage save, ending Denver’s season.

It was a disappointing end to what was otherwise a promising season for the Pioneers. With the three transfers from Yale, Lucas Cotler, Jackson Morrill, and TD Ierlan, all of whom played important roles in Denver’s comeback bid, it felt like this was going to be Denver’s year to get back to Championship Weekend and challenge for the program’s second national title. Unfortunately, as has been the case all season long, it came down to a close game where the Pioneers ended up on the losing end. It happened at Duke in the 12-10 loss and it happened twice against Georgetown, in overtime in Washington, D.C. and in regulation in the BIG EAST Championship Game. The Pioneers struggled in close games and it ended up being their downfall in the first round at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, in front of fans for the first time in over a year.

This loss stings most for the seniors, for the graduates, and the transfers. It’s not at all how these Pioneers expected to see their collegiate careers end. But there they were, pouring their hearts into one final comeback attempt, falling just short. There’s everything to be proud of and every reason to be disappointed. The Pioneers were right there. They just ran out of time.

Bill Tierney Postgame


Top Photo: Jack Dempsey, Clarkson Creative Photography

4 thoughts on “Pioneers Can’t Complete Comeback, Fall in First-Round Heartbreaker to Loyola”

  1. Team just doesn’t have “it”. Got gifted a first round home match up, a couple man up situations near the end of the game, but couldn’t come through. Nice comeback to make it a game, but another disappointing loss. Hate to say it, but Tierney has had the best face off man in the country for five of his years in Denver (between Trevor and T.D), only one national title, and a first round exit this year at home. Something is not quite right with the state of Denver lacrosse…the regression since the national title becomes more evident each year. It’s still a very good program, but Tierney has failed to elevate it to a great program, which is pretty surprising.

  2. Yes – the Pios played hard.

    But make no mistake — this DU team underachieved and the players and coaches all know it.

    With all the talent and experience they had, the 7-seeded Pios should not ever have lost to a 9-5 unseeded Loyola team at home. They should not have lost those two games to Georgetown, or the Duke game, either, coming up short in crunch time.

    Despite a near perfect performance by Ierlan and a great game by Morrill, the Pios just didn’t have enough in the tank from the rest of the guys when it mattered, at home, against a 9-5 Loyola team that was happy to be dancing.

    Credit Loyola for playing big when it counted, but they were helped along by a Denver team that should have been much sharper and better than they were tonight. Sloppy turnovers (17 of them?), falling badly behind, missed man-up chances (including 90 seconds of late man-up that did not produce a decent shot ?, a missed back-up late on a shot (again?), average goaltending, an undisciplined DU penalty in the final five minutes that produced the game-winner for Loyola and an inability to score on the doorstep chance in the final seconds was more than enough to do-in the Pios today.

    It was a tough year for everyone in college sports, but this Denver team had enough talent and experience to be much better than this flameout…

    I guess it is par for the course this year. At least five Denver team sports all fell short of their own expectations this year — Men’s Lacrosse (9th), Skiing (third) and Gymnastics (10th) all had flat NCAA team performances this year (by their own high standards). And Hockey and Volleyball both fell short of their usual NCAA appearances, losing in league playoffs and not going dancing at all. And Men’s soccer never had a chance to salvage a below-par Summit season with their NCAA shot due to Covid. The Men’s Swimming team battled suspensions and dissension to the point where their best swimmers did not even compete in the post season. And of course, DU basketball was unwatchable – the worst in the country.

    Honestly, I guess I should be happy we had sports at all this year, with all those kids had to put up with. But I hope we aren’t seeing the end of the DU golden age of sports…

    Bring on next year already…

  3. Swami- Bang on with the post-mortem 🙁 That first half was an epic fail. Senior/grad student heavy team playing like deer in the headlights. Credit Pios for making a game of it and were just a short and curly away from getting it to OT. Loyola beating Gtown was a big red flag, they are a good team with an experienced saavy coaching staff!

  4. Anna Zanusso, DU golfer, is our last athlete standing for the 2020-2021 season. Dunker still getting over yesterday’s lacrosse loss. If nothing else, we had lots of entertainment during the Pandemic year. The hockey bubble gave us 10 games in 21 days, all watchable live. That might have been my most enjoyable period. We sucked in Omaha, but we watched. I believe three of us even watched almost every men’s basketball game. I will go out on a limb and predict we win more games next season. That’s it for now. 85 in NJ tomorrow. My first beach day and then some fresh seafood. There is a chocolate lab named BOONE down at the shore. He may get a visit.

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