March 27, 2010

UVA's Midfield, At Full Strength, Blasts Hopkins

by Scott Ratcliffe | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Virginia used a stellar all-around performance to stay undefeated and head into ACC play on a high note, as the top-ranked Cavaliers coasted by 12th-ranked Johns Hopkins at Klockner Stadium on Saturday afternoon, 15-6. Virginia (9-0) was led offensively by the production of the starting midfield trio of Shamel Bratton, Rhamel Bratton and Brian Carroll, who combined for eight goals and 13 points on the afternoon.

“It’s a big confidence booster, especially playing Hopkins,” said Rhamel Bratton of the sixth straight Cavalier win against the Blue Jays. “They’re always a tough program, and it builds your confidence going into the ACC games, knowing that your defense can play well, and the offense is clicking, the goalie’s clicking, and everything’s rolling right now so we just want to keep it that way.”

Twin brother Shamel, who appeared to be near top form after battling an early season hamstring injury, scored a season-high three goals, while Rhamel added a hat trick of his own. Star freshman Matt White also chipped in with three goals to help pace the attack. Carroll scored twice to go along with his game-high three assists, and the 'Hoos also got a big game on the other end of the field.

After jumping out to a quick 4-1 start less than a minute into the second quarter, Virginia looked very tough to beat in the early going, but Hopkins (4-4) responded with three goals in less than two minutes to get back in the contest. Tom Palasek scored each of his team-high two goals before John Ranagan knotted the score at 4 apiece, and perhaps that was just the kind of wake-up call that the Cavalier defense needed.

“I wasn’t that happy at that point. I thought we just let our guard down a little bit on defense, gave them a couple of things. They’re going to get some things -- they’re good enough to just get them -- but I thought we also weren’t quite as alert defensively in a couple of those situations,” said Virginia coach Dom Starsia. “It gave me something to talk about between periods, and I think it got their attention going into the second period. I thought we gained control back of the game.”

Defenseman Ken Clausen, who came up with a game-high six ground balls and caused two Hopkins turnovers, added: “We needed to step it up, so we brought it together and said, ‘Let’s play our game. We’ve got to buckle down.’ And I think we did that from there on out.”

The Cavaliers would allow just two more goals over the remaining 38 and a half minutes.

UVA goalie Adam Ghitelman had a big day between the pipes, finishing with 10 saves. Even though his team enjoyed a comfortable advantage on the scoreboard through much of the second half, Starsia was happy to see Ghitelman coming up with key saves to keep a dangerous Hopkins squad at bay.

“At the end of the day, if you’re looking for one guy that’s probably going to define the kind of season that we’re going to have ultimately, it’s the kid in the goal, and I thought Adam played very well today overall, especially in the second half,” Starsia said. “He came up with a big save whenever we had to have it. They were rushing on offense, they were making some things happen, and it seemed like Adam had the answer every time.”

Virginia did all the little things well too, as the undefeated Cavaliers won the ground ball battle, 36-22, outshot Hopkins by 11, gave up five fewer turnovers, capitalized on an extra-man opportunity while killing all four of the Jays', and were 13-for-15 on clears. Virginia dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Blue Jays 5-1 to help seal the win.

The Cavaliers also did a great job of shutting down Hopkins senior attacker Steven Boyle, who came into the contest with a team-leading 33 points on the year. On Saturday, Boyle -- ranked sixth in Div. I in points per game (4.71) and 10th in goals per game (3) -- was held to just one assist.

Shamel Bratton, regarded as one of the nation’s top middies, is glad to see that his brother has made an important impact during the first half of the season, and realizes that the Cavaliers are more of a reckoning force with he, Rhamel and Carroll on the field together with Chris Bocklet, Steele Stanwick and White on attack.

“That’s so important, because you always want your third middie, all three guys on the midfield line to be playing well, and he’s playing way more consistent this year,” said Shamel. “We always knew that he had the potential. He just had to see it in himself and start hitting shots and getting his confidence, and he’s got all of it this year.”

The Blue Jays, who have now lost three games in a row and four of their last five, have also now dropped 12 of the last 14 meetings with the Cavs. It doesn’t get any easier for coach Dave Pietramala’s troops, who will host No. 3 North Carolina on Saturday.

Virginia enters, as Starsia refers to it, "the meat grinder" part of its season, which begins in College Park on Saturday at No. 4 Maryland. That match-up will be the first of three very tough ACC regular season affairs for the Cavaliers before taking on UNC in the Big City Classic in East Rutherford, N.J., the following week, and then hosting No. 7 Duke on April 10.

“It’s an iron schedule, and in the ACC, all four teams are really and truly in the top five or six teams in the country,” Starsia admits. “They’re our most physical lacrosse games… but it is what it is and we’ve got to get ready to play, and we’ve got another tough game in College Park next weekend.”

News & Notes

With the win Saturday, Virginia again claimed the Doyle Smith Cup, the fifth of five. The annual contest between the two schools honors the life and contributions of the late E. Doyle Smith, who served as team manager and statistician for Johns Hopkins from 1963-68 before enrolling at Virginia, where he would assume the role of sports information director for the next 31 years. Smith was a key member of the USILA for 22 years, serving as information director, and was the first non-player, non-coach to be inducted in the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2000.

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