BALTIMORE — As soon as the game clock ticked down to zero Saturday at Ridley Athletic Complex, every member of the Terrapins men’s lacrosse team sprinted downfield to gather around goalkeeper Niko Amato.
It’s a common custom in lacrosse for the winning team to greet its net-minder for a postgame celebration. This time, though, the gesture was particularly warranted.
Nine months ago, Greyhounds goalkeeper Jack Runkel stifled the Terps in a 9-3 national championship victory, leaving Amato on the losing end. Saturday, it was the Terps’ All-American who outshone his counterpart, helping solidify his team’s 12-10 victory.
Amato saved 13 of 23 shots on goal, consistently keeping No. 4 Loyola from converting on scoring attempts. His efforts helped the No. 1 Terps keep a sizable lead throughout the contest and escape Baltimore with a win.
“He’s always been a great stopper,” coach John Tillman said. “He’s got high standards, and he really wants to be the very best.”
Runkel, on the other hand, struggled mightily. The junior allowed 10 goals and saved just two shots before being pulled in favor of Jimmy Joe Granito midway through the third quarter. The goaltending battle clearly favored the Terps and was one of the keys to their victory.
Though Loyola scored 10 goals, that number could have been much higher. The Greyhounds outshot the Terps, 41-36, but they capitalized on only one of four extra-man opportunities thanks to a pair of Amato saves.
“Their defense was making us string two passes along to get a good look at Niko, and we felt like once we did get that look, he was right there,” Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. “It was a little frustrating because we felt like we did get some good looks at Niko, and he bailed them out.”
The junior didn’t just make saves, though. He also gathered two ground balls, caused a turnover and threw several passes that gave the offense quick scoring chances.
And maybe most importantly, he constantly directed traffic in front of the net.
“He’s really become more of a vocal leader,” Tillman said. “Being in that third year, he’s a guy that’s very comfortable always telling guys where to go and getting them checked up.”
Amato’s leadership helped propel the Terps to a huge win, and he decisively outplayed Runkel, the goalie on last year’s NCAA All-Tournament team. Amato said he never thought back to last season, though.
He’s not too elated over this win, either. The Conshohocken, Pa., native has bigger goals for his top-ranked Terps this season.
“No one is ever satisfied with being a winner in February and March,” Amato said. “Our bar is set for national championships and ACC championships.”
If Amato can match his success from Saturday’s game during the rest of the season, his Terps may reach those goals. The junior has stopped 63 percent of shots on goal this year and is anchoring a stout defense that has given up an average of 6.7 goals a game.
Inside Lacrosse selected Amato as a third-team preseason All-American. With his performance through three games, though, his coach is convinced he deserves even more praise than that.
“It’s one thing to make the saves, but also he gets the ball out, he creates transition, he makes great decisions on the clears and he’s getting guys organized,” Tillman said. “That’s what you really want out of a first team All-American.”