May 18, 2014

Cinderella Stories Burst After Quarterfinal Weekend

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Drexel was last hope for the underdogs in the NCAA tournament, but was eliminated by Denver on Sunday afternoon at the University of Delaware. (Kevin P. Tucker)

NEWARK, Del. — The last of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament miracle workers ran out of magic late Sunday afternoon, when unseeded Drexel lost to No. 5 Denver 15-6 in the quarterfinal round at Delaware.

With top-seeded Duke dispatching Johns Hopkins earlier Sunday, the final four shapes up like this: Duke-Denver and Maryland-Notre Dame on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Included are three traditional powers and the other, Denver, either an emerging one or already at that status depending on the point of view. The Pioneers will play in their third semifinal in four seasons.

For all of the attention on the fact four unseeded teams played in the quarterfinals for the first time, four seeded teams will play on championship weekend for the first time since 2009.

After Saturday's tournament exits of Bryant and Albany in quarterfinal games on Long Island, Drexel was the last hope to keep the Cinderella slipper in play. But the Pioneers raced to an insurmountable seven-goal halftime lead.

It marked the end of the road for a Drexel team that won two overtime games in the CAA tournament just to get into the big show, the program's first-ever NCAA tournament.

"We know what we did this year. We're proud of ourselves," said Drexel's leading scorer, senior midfielder Ben McIntosh, who scored his 100th career goal in the loss. "We took this program to somewhere it's never been."

Drexel's nine-game win streak was snapped as it finished the year at 13-5, a week after downing fourth-seeded Penn in the first round to win its first NCAA tournament game.

"You hope it's a building block and you always want to get better," Drexel coach Brian Voelker said. "We're losing some pretty good players. That's going to be a tough thing for us, but you hope the kids here realize what it took to get here. You hope that the kids — I guess we don't recruit as early as some of the other guys around — but the juniors in high school look around and say that would be a good place to go play. But just because this team got here doesn't mean it's going to happen again next year."

"Staying positive was something we did this whole year and especially today to come back," Blue Jays junior attackman Wells Stanwick said of climbing back from an early 7-3 hole. (Kevin P. Tucker)

At a place like Johns Hopkins, that's the norm. Last year's NCAA tournament miss was its first since the 1970s and, after a first-round win against Virginia last week, the Blue Jays found themselves in the bluest-blood matchup of the quarterfinals against Duke, albeit Johns Hopkins was still unseeded.

The Blue Devils got at least two goals from six different players, including five from Jordan Wolf, four from Josh Dionne before he left the game at the end of the second quarter with a leg injury, and three from sophomore midfielder Myles Jones.

With the Johns Hopkins defense focused on limiting Deemer Class in the midfield, Jones shined not only with the goals, but with four assists. Blue Jays long-stick midfielder Mike Pellegrino, who covered Jones in his high school days on Long Island, drew the defensive assignment at times, while also chipping in on faceoffs, winning six of 11 against Duke's Brendan Fowler.

"His game has changed a lot," Pellegrino said of Jones. "He got a lot better with his off hand. His shakes got a lot better. He's not swim dodging, or doing unorthodox things. He's really fast, really deliberate with his movement and it causes a challenge. He was just really tight every time he was dodging and with any midfielder, that's deadly."

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala wrestled with the decision on whom to put a short- and long-stick on heading into the game, Jones or Class, and said in the end, "We made the right choice." Class was held scoreless.

"It's a kind of pick-your-poison kind of thing," Pietramala said.

As Duke's offense hummed, the Blue Jays couldn't quite keep up. Johns Hopkins put only three shots on goal in the second half, after trailing 12-8 at the break and climbing out of a 7-3 hole at the end of the first quarter.

"We were being positive the whole time and we knew that if we got the ball, we were going to be able to do our stuff and generate goals," said Johns Hopkins junior attackman Wells Stanwick, who finished with a goal and three assists. "Staying positive was something we did this whole year and especially today to come back."

Pietramala, like Voelker, was already looking ahead to next season in the Blue Jays' post-game press conference. He mentioned the performances of sophomore midfielders Holden Cattoni and Connor Reed.

Cattoni matched senior Rob Guida's team high with three goals. Reed finished with a goal and four assists on six shots, and Pietramala said he wanted Reed to shoot more with no slides coming.

"That's something we'll continue to work on," Pietramala said. "I'm really disappointed for our seniors. I'm disappointed for our alumni and fans, and I'm excited about the future of Johns Hopkins lacrosse and the group we have coming in, and the leadership we'll have next year. But in the end, we lost to a better team today."

And the Cinderella storylines ended as well.

"The second half of our season was a big high for us," Drexel's McIntosh said. "We were constantly winning. Balls were bouncing our way. We were winning overtime games. It was a lot of fun... It's a lot more fun when you're winning. To go out like this is tough."

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