March 24, 2012

Trend Busters: No. 2 Blue Jays Win at No. 1 Virginia

By Matt Forman | Twitter

Lee Coppersmith tied the score at 10 with 44 seconds left in the fourth quarter and, after a series of penalties and turnovers by both teams, No. 2 Johns Hopkins prevailed in overtime against No. 1 Virginia on John Ranagan's goal with 5.6 seconds left.
© John Strohsacker/ 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The 14-year-old gorilla is off Johns Hopkins' back. John Ranagan didn't just remove it. He ripped it off emphatically.

Ranagan, Saturday's hero, scored the game-winning goal with 5.6 seconds left in overtime to put an exclamation point on No. 2 Hopkins' upset of top-ranked Virginia 11-10 in front of an electric crowd of 6,889 fans. It was the Blue Jays' first win at Klockner Stadium since 1998. And it all but ensured that Hopkins will find itself as the nation's new No. 1 team come Monday.

With the Blue Jays holding for the last possession and inverting behind the cage with midfielder Rob Guida, Ranagan took a pass on the left wing from John Greeley. Ranagan, scoreless until that point, split-dodged lefty, snuck between two defenders with a swim move and fired off-balance. He got enough on the high-to-low bounce shot that squeaked between Rob Fortunato's legs.

The celebration commenced. Ranagan sprinted toward the Hopkins' sideline, jumped skyward and thrust his hands in the air with a fist pump, seemingly snapping the 14-year-old strings tying Hopkins down.

"I kind of blacked out. I don't even know what happened. I was so happy," said Ranagan, whom Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said was a game-time decision while nursing an undisclosed injury. "I ran over to our fans. We had a great fan base come down here to support us, and I wanted to show them how happy I was."

"I couldn't find the back of the net all game. I was shooting the ball kind of like a jerk. I finally shot the ball the way coach wants me to: overhand low. I was struggling all game with it, but then I finally did it right. It went in. Once I saw the back of the net move, I couldn't have been happier."

Call the 2012 Blue Jays trend busters. Three consecutive losses to Princeton. Reversed. Five straight slip-ups against Syracuse. Upended. Until Saturday, Hopkins had lost 15 of the last 21 meetings with Virginia.

"We've talked all year about trends," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "We hadn't beaten Princeton in a couple years. We ended that trend. We talked about beating Syracuse. We ended that trend. And we talked about not being able to come down here and win, and actually, not just win but play well. We played well, and we won.

"This has been a very hard place for us to play and be successful. Why? No. 1, they're a terrific team. That's part of it. But part of it is, when you don't have success, it's even more challenging. When you don't win, the team that you're playing has a lot of confidence. And when things don't go well, they're still very confident. When things go bad and you're the team that hasn't won, you tend to say, 'Here we go again.'"

How do you stop that from happening?

"We just stopped it. That's how you stop it," Pietramala said. "That's how you end that trend — you win."

Saturday's heavyweight showdown matching the nation's top-ranked teams and two of the most storied programs in the sport's history lived up to and exceeded all expectations.

Walking into Hopkins' locker room after the game, assistant coach Jamison Koesterer took a deep breath. "Phew, great game for the fans," he said. "But that one took a couple years off my life."

Every cliché would be fitting to describe this one: It was a back-and-forth, up-and-down, knockdown, drag-out thriller.

"It felt like a playoff game, a playoff atmosphere," Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia said.

But it wasn't without its sloppy moments. During a five-minute stretch — the last minute of regulation and overtime — both teams traded penalties for too many players on the field and threw the ball away while setting up their offense in extra-man situations.

The fans — many of which were standing for the final 30 minutes of action — had one of those, "What's going on?" kind of moments. One fan asked another: "These are the best teams in the country, right?"

"Both teams were a little hesitant and afraid to make a mistake," Pietramala said. "It was almost like we were trying to give it away."

That was ultimately the deciding factor for Virginia, which made three overtime turnovers and didn't record a shot in the extra session.

"We made too many mistakes to beat Johns Hopkins today," Starsia said. "That was the end game for us."

"That one took a couple years off my life."

-- Blue Jays assistant Jamison Koesterer

The loss snapped Virginia's 14-game home winning streak and marked only the second home loss in the senior class' career.

After the teams exchanged pleasantries early, play slowed in the second quarter with storms passing through the area and a correspondingly slick field. Virginia built a 4-1 lead and went into halftime ahead 5-3.

"Early on it was feel each other out like two boxers. From the second quarter on, it was lacrosse," Pietramala said. "It was two good teams going at it."

But as the sun started peeking through the clouds, the soggy conditions turned sweltering, and the pace picked up. Hopkins scored four of the first five goals after intermission, taking its first lead with 3:27 on the clock in the third quarter.

That's when it got fun. As one Hopkins fan said leaving Klockner Stadium: "I felt like we won it five times. I felt like we lost we lost it five times."

The final period of regulation was feverish, with the teams taking a combined 21 shots. There were three fourth-quarter ties — at 8, 9 and 10 — and a pair of highlight-reel finishes. Virginia freshman Matt White scored a ridiculous no-look, behind-the-back goal on a feed in front from reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Steele Stanwick. White snuck it over the shoulder of Pierce Bassett, who made nine saves. Less than a minute later, Hopkins junior Zach Palmer fired a one-handed, righty underhand scoop shot on the crease past Fortunato, who made 13 stops of his own.

But following the flurry of fancy goals, it looked like Virginia would withstand Hopkins' rally and come away with the win. Stanwick scored a tight-angle unassisted goal from just above goal-line extended (Bassett was out of the cage covering a defender as Stanwick was double-teamed coming off a pick) Then Ryan Tucker cherry-picked the upper-right corner of the cage, the Cavaliers won the ensuing faceoff and had a man-advantage on Mike Pellegrino's slashing penalty.

But Mark Cockerton's pass to Stanwick forced him out of the box, giving Hopkins the ball with 1:11 on the clock. No more than 27 seconds later, Lee Coppersmith scored the equalizer on a substitution play when he drew a short-stick defender.

That eventually set up Ranagan's overtime tally, which sent the Blue Jays faithful into a frenzy.

"It was a great win," Ranagan said. "It feels great — not for me, not for this team, but for Johns Hopkins as a whole, to have this win for the family. That's what we say every day after we break huddle: family. That's what our team is based on. We all buy into it. We're not happy for us. We're happy for our Johns Hopkins lacrosse family."

Happy that gorilla is gone.

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