May 8, 2010

Hopkins Has Answer for Loyola, NCAA Committee

by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Game Blog

Johns Hopkins attackman Kyle Wharton is all smiles after victimizing Loyola for five goals.

© John Strohsacker/

BALTIMORE, Md. -- For the second straight time on Saturday, the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse team was essentially stuck in a playoff game before the playoffs actually begin. And for the second straight time, the Blue Jays answered the call to stay alive, and did it convincingly, this time against the type of quality team they had yet to master in 2010.

By taking control of Loyola early, then riding a five-goal effort by attackman Kyle Wharton and a 20-save gem by freshman goalie Pierce Bassett to a 9-6 victory on Saturday at the Ridley Athletic Complex, the unranked Blue Jays made their case to participate in their 39th consecutive NCAA tournament.

Hopkins, which would have been eliminated from the tournament with a loss, finished the regular season with a 7-7 record. But because the Blue Jays are strong in two critical tournament selection criteria areas -- Hopkins ranks fourth in strength of schedule and 12th in RPI -- Hopkins still stands a good chance of snagging one of the tournament’s 10 at-large berths. The 16-team bracket will be announced Sunday night.

Loyola (9-4) lost its second straight game, after entering the contest with strong RPI (8) and strength-of-schedule (18) rankings. The Greyhounds, who shot a miserable 6-for-41 on Saturday and dearly missed injured senior defenseman Steve Layne -- he sat out with a sprained knee -- remain poised to get an at-large bid. But Loyola’s chance for hosting a first-round playoff game likely has gone up in flames.

“I’m certainly not happy about the position we’ve put ourselves in. I’m angry about where we are,” Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “But I’m proud of our guys for stepping up the last two weeks and giving us a chance. The last two games have put us back into a serious [tournament] discussion. Our schedule is selection-friendly. This win is over a top 10 RPI team. That’s a big deal.”

Not since 1971 has Hopkins had a losing season. Not since 1996 have the Blue Jays entered a regular-season finale needing to win to qualify for the NCAAs. But Hopkins played with a sense of mission and calm while improving its lopsided record against Loyola to 45-3.

Loyola dominated the Blue Jays in shots (41-22) and ground balls (36-21) and won 12 of 19 faceoffs. But Hopkins, which led for the game’s final 36 minutes, showed great discipline on defense and economy on offense. The Blue Jays shot 40 percent. Wharton made all five of his shots.

Loyola’s offense, so reliant on its attack and transition, got little from either. The Greyhounds got no goals from their starting attack of Collin Finnerty, Cooper MacDonnell and Matt Langan.

The Hopkins defense spent the afternoon forcing shooters into the 15-yard range and beyond, and forcing shooters to their off hand. Bassett did the rest. One of four freshmen who start for the Blue Jays, the 6-feet-3 Bassett stuffed Loyola inside several times early, then ate up the Greyhounds from outside range as the day wore on.

Bassett’s 20 saves marked the best performance by a Hopkins goalie since senior Michael Gvozden -- whom Bassett replaced earlier this year -- saved 20 shots against Syracuse in the 2008 national title game. In his last three games, Bassett has made 46 saves, allowed 19 goals, and has a save percentage of 72.

“Our defense got great on-ball pressure and did a great job forcing guys to their off hands,” Bassett said. “I was able to make a few saves early, play from there and get into a rhythm.”

Wharton, the hard-shooting junior lefty, found his rhythm as well. With Layne out, Wharton drew Nick Disimile and beat him to open shooting areas repeatedly. After Hopkins took a 4-3, second-quarter lead with 5:52 left in the first half, the Blue Jays never trailed, and Wharton scored four of the Blue Jays’ last five goals. His 12-yard bullet, following an assist by senior midfielder Michael Kimmel (two goals), made it 7-4 with 9:50 left in the third quarter.

At that point, the Blue Jays were in control. Loyola coach Charley Toomey then pulled goalie Jake Hagelin and replaced him with Alex Peaty.

“We weren’t giving Jake a chance [to make a save]. If he wasn’t seeing Howitzers from 12 yards, their shots were from inside 10. [Wharton] is a terrific shooter. If he’s getting his hands free, if you give him light, he’s going to bury it,” Toomey said. “Our guys played hard. I wasn’t disappointed in our effort. We got some good looks at the cage. But [Hopkins] had an answer for everything we threw at them.”

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