April 30, 2011

Loyola Left with What Ifs as Hopkins Wins

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

BALTIMORE - The third-ranked Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse team wishes it would have been sharper against no. 17 Loyola on Senior Day. Yet, there were no complaints about the final result – a gritty, unremarkable, 8-7 victory on Saturday, before 5,727 at Homewood Field.

For the Greyhounds, it marked an afternoon of what-could-have-been moments, right down to the last seconds, when attackman Mike Sawyer’s 15-yard, desperation heave from the middle of the field sailed low and wide right by two feet as the final horn sounded.

What if the Greyhounds had capitalized on more of Hopkins’ nine, second-half turnovers, or the Blue Jays’ five blown clears? What if Loyola had done just a little more with its 5-for-8 showing at the faceoff circle in the second half and its smart, ball control strategy in the second half, when the Greyhounds hung around long enough to score the game’s final three goals and still lose? What if Loyola had cashed in a tad more after out-shooting the Blue Jays in the second half by a 15-4 count?

“I’m getting used to close games with Johns Hopkins,” said Greyhounds head coach Charley Toomey, who dropped the third, one-goal decision to the Blue Jays in his six years at Loyola. “I thought our kids played awfully hard today, thought they were prepared. I’m hurting for them. But I thought I saw some guys grow up today and play at a level they need to play at next weekend.”

Loyola (8-4) can marinate a little longer in the mistakes it made during its 12th straight loss to Hopkins, while the Greyhounds prepare to travel to Denver to compete in the ECAC tournament, which the Greyhounds must win in order to reach the NCAA tournament by virtue of an automatic qualifier.

The Blue Jays (11-2) keep moving on, after beating their Charles Street rivals for the 46th time in 49 meetings, despite nearly letting an 8-4, second-half lead slip away. Hopkins solidified its hold on a top four seed in the NCAA tournament by winning its sixth straight game, and snapping Loyola’s five-game winning streak.

Give the Blue Jays points for resourcefulness – they shot 8-for-19 and got six goals from midfielders – even though Hopkins scored just two, second-half goals and produced one in the game’s final 21:50.

“I like winning. After last year [a 7-8 finish], I like winning a hell of a lot more this year,” Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “I like that we find a way to win. I like how we made a stop when we had to, won a big face-off when we needed one, got some big goals.

“I’d like us to execute better. In the second half, I didn’t think we were very sharp. We were sloppy clearing, and our midfield defense was a little sloppy. [Loyola] played like a team that had to either win their tournament or get a big one under their belts [today]. The disappointing part was we just didn’t play for 60 minutes.”

Both teams settled in with a similar defensive strategy – shut down the opposing attack and made the middies beat you. The Hopkins defense was extra-conscious of Sawyer, Loyola’s leading scorer, and sophomore defenseman Tucker Durkin put the clamps on him. The Loyola close defense of Reid Acton, Dylan Grimm and Steve Dircks neutralized the Hopkins attack of Kyle Wharton, Chris Boland and Zach Palmer, holding each of them to one goal.

But Hopkins, led by sophomore midfielder John Ranagan (two goals), did enough offensively to gain the cushion it needed for its fourth, one-goal victory of 2011, all during its current winning streak.

After the teams had traded three goals apiece early in the second quarter, the Blue Jays responded with a critical, 3-0 run in the closing minutes of the half.

Ranagan ran by long-stick midfielder Kevin Moriarity and stuck an eight-yard shot from the right wing to make it 4-3 with 4:30 left. Freshman midfielder Rob Guida beat a short-stick midfielder after dodging free on the right wing, and buried an eight-yard runner with 3:17 to go. Then, second-line midfielder Lee Coppersmith beat short-stick midfielder Kyle Duffy before burying a 10-yard runner with 1:21 left in the half.

To their credit, even after Wharton finished an unsettled play with 10:23 left in the third quarter to give the Blue Jays an 8-4 advantage, the Greyhounds dug in. Loyola won faceoffs, forced turnovers, dug out ground balls, held on for long possessions, and kept chipping away.

Attackman Chris Palmer (two goals, one assist) hit an eight-yard fadeaway with 9:15 left in the third to make it 8-5. Midfielder D.J. Comer (two goals, one assist) got loose on the crease and scored easily to make it 8-6 with 7:58 left in the game. Then, after Hopkins threw the ball away with 2:30 to go, Sawyer finally got his hands free from 14 yards out, and ripped a high shot past goalie Pierce Bassett (seven saves) to cut the lead to 8-7 with 1:53 left.

Hopkins turned the ball over again with about 90 seconds to go, but short-stick midfielder Tim Donovan deflected Loyola attackman Matt Langan’s seven-yard shot with just under a minute left. The ball bounced harmlessly to Bassett. But the Blue Jays blew their final clearing attempt, giving Sawyer one last, desperate chance.

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