April 13, 2013

Hopkins Downs Maryland to Change Conversation of Season

by Patrick Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Live Blog Replay

Johns Hopkins goalie Pierce Bassett made 12 saves as the Blue Jays beat No. 1 Maryland to keep their playoff hopes alive.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Johns Hopkins' defense produced a two-hour conversation Saturday afternoon.

In the process, the Blue Jays changed the conversation about the course of their season.

No. 15 Hopkins shut down top-ranked Maryland, authoring a 7-4 victory before 10,233 at Byrd Stadium short on style points but long on re-establishing the Blue Jays as a credible postseason contender.

Goalie Pierce Bassett made 12 saves and defenseman Tucker Durkin helped hold Kevin Cooper, Maryland's leading scorer, to an assist as Hopkins (7-4) collected by far their most impressive victory of the season.

And it all stemmed from how the Blue Jays conversed as they systematically flustered the Terrapins (8-2).

"That's how we describe defense," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "A lot of people talk about [how] it's communication. It's not. It's about conversation, and conversation changes as the possession unfolds and as the ball moves from one guy to another to another, your responsibilities change. You're constantly conversing with one another."

They had plenty to say, especially after back-to-back one-goal losses to North Carolina and Albany. The setbacks seriously imperiled Hopkins' NCAA tournament hopes and created the possibility the Blue Jays could miss the postseason for the first time since 1971.

It wasn't what this veteran-laden Hopkins bunch was supposed to deal with, not this year. And there certainly weren't supposed to be such fits on defense, where Bassett has started since the middle of his freshman season and Durkin and Chris Lightner are long-time mainstays.

And for at least one sun-splashed day, there were no problems and few hiccups. The Terps endured a scoreless stretch of 22:04 that covered the entire second quarter. Then they went silent again for another 13 minutes.

"Everyone was on the same page for the first time in what felt like a while," Durkin said. "And it felt good."

Pietramala is fond of concentrating on the knowns, the players certain to inflict damage if granted the opportunity. Against Albany a week earlier, there were three knowns in the Thompson trio. Against Maryland, there were six at a time.

But the Terps couldn't get anyone besides midfielder Mike Chanenchuk (two goals and an assist) fully engaged in the offense. Cooper was quiet. Owen Blye had only a goal. Hopkins' ability to defend Jay Carlson led Maryland to frequently sub freshman Dave Goodwin in at attack.

Little worked for the Terps, who shot 4 of 36.

"We talked about forcing their weak hands and taking away some of the things they like to do and I thought in the game the defense played extremely hard," Bassett said. "They followed what we talked the entire week and that just helped me see the shots I was comfortable with and all I had to do was really save them."

In truth, Bassett produced one of his best games of the season. His defense was stout. And Maryland, in part because of their efforts, looked utterly disjointed as they fell short of upending Hopkins for the third consecutive time.

"Early on, we weren't getting the leverage at times that we wanted," Maryland coach John Tillman said. "At times when we did get the leverage, he'd come up with a big save or maybe we just didn't put the ball where we wanted."

Hopkins managed to a little bit more with a substantially reshuffled lineup. Attackman Zach Palmer, hurt in practice on Wednesday, sat in favor of John Kaestner (two goals). Rob Guida returned from injury for the first time since Feb. 16 and scored a goal out of a scrum.

He was joined on the first line by Lee Coppersmith and Ryan Brown, with seniors John Ranagan (two goals and an assist) and John Greeley coming off the bench.

While the starters were different on offense, the defense was the crucial element to the triumph. So much of it stemmed from improved precision, something Pietramala knows was critical earlier in his tenure when the Blue Jays seemed impervious in one-goal games.

In recent years, and especially earlier this season, Hopkins hasn't enjoyed such invulnerability. And it was especially apparent two weeks ago after falling in overtime at North Carolina.

"[Assistant Bill Dwan] said 'I felt like we did the hard things well and we didn't do the easy things.' We defended [Joey] Sankey one-on-one and we defended [Jimmy] Bitter one-on-one, yet we didn't play a pick well and we didn't support well. Those are the easy things. The hard things are actually covering those guys. I felt like last week we started to do a little bit of both and this week we started to put it all together."

Yet for how long? Even Pietramala acknowledged the most consistent aspects of this edition of the Blue Jays are work ethic and inconsistency. One win won't seal Hopkins' place in the postseason; far from it. Three more regular-season victories (Navy and Loyola at home before a season-ending trek to Army) might be required, and even then there are no guarantees.

But the Blue Jays are at least back in the discussion — appropriately enough because of their defense's on-field conversation against the vexed Terps.

"It's just nice to see it come together," Pietramala said. "To be honest to you, it's been a while. It's been what we've expected of this group. The challenge will be can they continue it moving forward."

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