A strong defense, led by a hot goaltender, and a couple of lethal sharpshooters on the offensive end of the field is a winning combination for a lacrosse team and it is the exact combination No. 4 St. Paul’s employed, Tuesday afternoon in Brooklandville, as they posted very impressive 9-4 win over fifth-ranked Loyola Blakefield in the MIAA A Conference lacrosse opener for both schools.

With Virginia-bound goal-keeper Alex Rode red-hot in the early going, the Crusaders played fast and loose on the offensive end, scoring a pair of first quarter goals and racing out to a 5-0 lead midway though the second quarter.

Junior middle Logan Zimnoch, in his first game back after two weeks off with a leg injury, opened the scoring with an unassisted tally at the 8:23 mark and Logan Posner, the Crusaders’ leading scorer, added another unassisted score, nearly four minutes later. The pair would go one to combine for seven goals in the contest, with Posner netting four and Zimnock celebrating his comeback with a hat-trick.

Keegan Pearl made it 3-0 early in the second quarter and Kyle DiPietro followed quickly with another, before assisting on Posner’s second goal to establish the 5-0 lead. Loyola’s Colin Clothier finally got the Dons on the board, with 6:53 to play in the opening half, but Crusaders were already firmly in command.

“We were firing on all cylinders right from the beginning face-off,” said Posner. “We were just pumped right from the get-go, dominated on ground balls and face-offs are a huge key for us.”

The Crusader were able to control the face-offs, with senior Brendan Tscherne taking all of them and winning 11-of-17 to help St. Paul’s control possession.

In the third quarter, Zimnock busted the game open with back-to-back goals, the first coming on an extra-man possession, and Posner added his final two tallies in the fourth quarter. Pearl added an assist as did Cole Ament and Riley Bakewell.

Off to a great start (10-1, 1-0 MIAA A) in his final season on the Crusaders’ sideline, head coach Rick Brocato urged his team to savor every moment.

“It’s always special winning an MIAA game. I don’t take any of them for granted,” said Brocato who has announced his retirement at season’s end. “Getting this win in our home MIAA opener today, against a great opponent like Loyola, speaks volumes for our kids and our coaching staff which prepared them for this game.”

According to Posner, Brocato’s final season is a source of motivation for he and his teammates.

“We’re seniors so we’re going to give it all we got, but it really helps us, when there is noting in the tank left, we just think of Coach Broc in his last year and just do it for him,” said Posner. “It gives us a little more energy, a little more bolt in the fourth quarter when it matters most.”

Brocato also appreciates the work of his goal scorers.

“Pos has been doing it all year for us. He’s been putting the ball in the net,” Brocato explained. Logan has been shooting at a very high percentage and working really hard at it. He takes his craft very seriously. And, getting Logan Zimnock back today, after a two-week hiatus, was huge for us. He was just starting to get himself back into shape the last couple of days and it showed today. I felt he got his timing back today, which was big for us in the midfield.”

The strong defensive effort also provided a lift for the Crusaders and with a new group of starters playing so well in front of Rode, the unit has impressed their head coach.

“It is pretty special what that group is doing, with Coach Whitely and Coach Benzing getting them fine tuned,” said Brocato. “Those are guys who have not played. There are three brand new starters – Ham Whiteford, Nick Hapney and Andrew Caples – and you throw in our two poles – Jackson Woodward and Antonio Mastromanolis, Bobby Barroll, our short stick middle, Jennings Schweizer, a short stick D-middie, and Spencer Hall, they give Alex a lot of support.

“Alex is a traffic goalie and we feel if we can show him and dictate where the shots are going to come from, Alex is going to make the save.”

Rode, who finished with 11 saves, also deflected much of the credit to his supporting cast.

“My defense made it really easy on me, especially the close guys and the middies,” said Rode. “They weren’t giving them open looks and when they were getting inside, they were pushing them out and getting hard checks on them.”

Although excited with the team’s strong start, Rode stressed keeping everything perspective.

“It definitely makes us feel good, but we’ve all been through the MIAA before and we know we have a long way to go,” said Rode. “It looks pretty decent right now and it should be fun.”

Loyola head coach Ben Rubeor mixed no words. He thought his team was outplayed.

“It was one-sided from the start. A lot of credit to St. Paul’s,” said Rubeor, in his second year with the Dons. “I thought they played smarter. I thought a bunch of guys on their team played very, very well and very smart.”

The Dons were led by two goals from Alex Breschi, while Connor Hume and Clothier had one each. Goalkeeper Jake Stout also had an outstanding game, stopping 13 shots under heavy pressure.

LOY  0  1  0  3  —  4
STP  2  3  2  2  —  9
LOY- Alex Breschi 2, Connor Hume 1, Colin Clothier 1; STP-Logan Posner 4, Logan Zimnock 3, Keegan Pearl 1, Kyle DiPietro 1.
ASSISTS: LOY-Kyrle Preis 1; STP-Keegan Pearl 1, Kyle DiPietro 1, Cole Ament 1, Riley Bakewell 1.
SAVES: LOY-Jake Stout 13; STP-Alex Rode 11.