May 5, 2012

Palmer Powers Johns Hopkins Past Army

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com


Zach Palmer's career-high five goals paced the Blue Jays in a 13-6 rout of Army. Johns Hopkins next will make its 41st straight NCAA tournament appearance.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

BALTIMORE – Johns Hopkins junior attackman Zach Palmer felt that once the Blue Jays got on any kind of scoring run in the second half, visiting Army would have to abandon its hold-the-ball strategy, and the game would turn in Hopkins' favor.

Palmer's instincts were dead on, and it didn't hurt that he also torched an upset bid by the Black Knights by playing one of the best games of his career.

Led by Palmer, who scored a career-high five goals and finished with seven points, No. 10 Hopkins scored nine of the game's final 11 goals on Senior Day, as the Blue Jays shook off unranked Army and rolled to a 13-6 rout before 5,130 at Homewood Field.

With the victory, Hopkins (11-3) strengthened its grip on hosting a home game in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And the Blue Jays, who will make their record 41st straight appearance in the tournament next weekend, may have earned their way to a top-four seed.

To get to this position, Hopkins had to get off the deck after suffering back-to-back losses to Maryland and Navy, a painful stretch during which the Blue Jays managed only three goals in their last 90 minutes in those losses. Since then, the Blue Jays have found their stride by handing third-ranked Loyola its only defeat and overwhelming Army (7-8).

At the forefront of the charge on Saturday was Palmer, who blistered the Black Knights with 5-for-7 shooting and two assists. That followed his four-point outburst in Loyola, a 10-9 overtime win that ended with Palmer's assist to midfielder Rob Guida.

And to think Palmer, prior to his recent recovery, went through a stretch of five games over six weeks in which he scored no more than one goal or two points. That included a pointless game in the 9-6 loss to Maryland on April 14.

"It's been an insane year, and that was a rough patch for me," Palmer said. "I wasn't playing up to my par. Navy was kind of a wakeup call. I think it turned out to be a good thing for us.

"We threw the ball away a few times early today, and Army was doing a good job of holding onto the ball. We calmed down a little bit in the second half. Once we had the ball in our sticks, we knew we were going to score. When we were able to score, that put more pressure on [Army] to go to the net [instead of draining the clock]."

Palmer hit the Black Knights from all kinds of angles. He scored on a 12-yard fade-away early, was an off-ball nightmare to cover inside and stunned Army goalie Zach Palmieri (eight saves) with a flip over the shoulder late in the third quarter. That gave Hopkins a 9-5 lead lead with 1:23 left in the third, and the Blue Jays sealed the deal by shutting out Army in the fourth quarter, 4-0.

"We felt if we grinded it a little, opportunities [to score] might present themselves. But you can't score without the ball. We didn't have the ball in the second half," Army coach Joe Alberici said. "[Palmer] is a terrific player. He just doesn't miss much."

The Blue Jays missed plenty early, shooting 4-for-16 in the first half, when Army's deliberate approach – which drew stall warnings on its first three possessions – rattled Hopkins and helped it produce five first-quarter turnovers. But after the Black Knights knotted the score at 4-4 nearly four minutes into the second half on a goal by midfielder Alex Von Krevel (two goals), Hopkins started to dominate possession time, while Palmer and his offense went to work behind great faceoff work from Mike Poppleton (15-for-19).

Palmer, with an assist from attackman Chris Boland (three goals, two assists), gave the Blue Jays a 5-4 lead with 11:05 left in the third, and started a wave that included two, third-quarter goals by attackman Brandon Benn. He gave Hopkins an 8-5 lead with 2:52 left in the period off one of midfielder John Ranagan's two assists.

Then came Palmer's back-to-the-goal, over-the-shoulder bullet from seven yards out on the left wing. Army midfielder Devin Lynch cut the lead to 9-6 in the final seconds, but Hopkins was taking the air out of Army by that point, having won 14 of 19 ground balls in the third quarter.

Palmer then scored twice and assisted Boland twice in a fourth-quarter knockout.

"It's one of those games where you don't feel comfortable. Teams do what they have to do," said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, alluding to Army's plan to milk the clock and test the Blue Jays' patience. "I think we were tired. I thought we were horrible in the first quarter. We were pressing. We were playing early on like the pressure was on us. But we broke out."

It helped Hopkins immensely that junior defenseman Tucker Durkin was his dependable self, this time by marking attackman Garrett Thul, who entered the game with 36 goals as Army's undisputed lightning rod. In another exceptional performance, Durkin shadowed Thul, bumped him and ran with him, allowing him just one goal.

"I think more than any other player we've focused on all year, we haven't focused on a guy like we focused on Garrett Thul," Durkin said.

Now, it's onto another postseason for the Blue Jays for the 41st consecutive year.

"People [around here] don't think that's enough, because that's what is expected," said Pietramala, who will try to lead the Blue Jays to their third NCAA crown in his 12th postseason at Homewood. "But 41 straight is unbelievable."


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