April 27, 2013

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Loyola Drops Johns Hopkins; Jays' NCAA Hopes Bleak

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Loyola beat Johns Hopkins for the first time since 1999 to boost its NCAA tournament chances and likely drop the Blue Jays out of the playoff picture. Mike Sawyer scored three goals.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

BALTIMORE — As the final seconds ticked off the game clock at packed, mostly-hushed Homewood Field on Saturday, a loud throng of Loyola fans erupted along with the Greyhounds' sideline in joyous anticipation, as history was being made.

Then, time officially ran out on 11th-ranked Johns Hopkins — and the Blue Jays' four-decade run of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances likely ended, as well.

Once the final horn sounded, and No. 7 Loyola had finished off a beautiful defensive effort with a pivotal 8-4 victory, the Greyhounds' players ran onto the field and celebrated a rare win against their Charles Street nemesis.

Loyola finally broke through for only its fourth victory in 51 tries against the Blue Jays and its first since 1999. A year after suffering their only loss of the season to Hopkins, before going on to win the first Division I title in school history, the Greyhounds (11-3) removed any late-game suspense this time. They scored the final three goals during a torturous second half for Hopkins.

"I'm very proud of our seniors," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. "They led the preparation for this week as well as any team I've ever been associated with. We're going to enjoy this, because [a Hopkins win] doesn't happen an awful lot at Loyola. But, to be able to move on from this is really the key."

Loyola indeed has bigger things on its mind. The Greyhounds will head up to Hobart this week as the No. 2 seed in the ECAC tournament, with a chance to win it and defend its NCAA title as an automatic qualifier.

On Saturday, Loyola ruined a Senior Day that began on ominous note for the Blue Jays, who lost key redshirt sophomore defensive midfielder Phil Castronova — the team's transition spark — to a freak injury. Just before the pre-game ceremony honoring the senior class, Castronova tore his left Achilles tendon while jumping up and down near the Hopkins sideline. He spent the game wearing a boot on his left foot.

The Greyhounds then played better, more composed lacrosse, despite being out-shot, 36-28, and beaten on faceoffs (11-4) and ground balls (28-25). But Hopkins, which shot 11.1 percent and committed 16 turnovers, including seven in the fourth quarter, played from behind for most of a sunny afternoon. The Blue Jays put only 14 shots on goal.

With Loyola senior attackman Mike Sawyer leading the way with three goals — his seventh hat trick of the season — the Greyhounds were judicious on offense, both in transition and in settled situations, while taking just 28 shots. Senior defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins (one goal, one assist) was a fast-break force once again.

Sawyer's third goal gave Loyola a 6-4 lead with 6:10 left in the third quarter. Senior midfielder Davis Butts made it 7-4 with 9:06 left in the game. At that point, the Blue Jays were in a mess of turnovers. Junior midfielder Kevin Ryan then took a perfect feed inside from senior midfielder Sean O'Sullivan and put the Blue Jays away with 3:13 left.

Defensively, with goalie Jack Runkel capping a fine team effort with 10 saves, the Greyhounds staged a clinic before 7,905 spectators.

By winning every six-on-six matchup decisively, starting with defenseman Joe Fletcher blanketing Wells Stanwick (one assist) and continuing with a defensive midfield (long-stick Scott Ratliff and short-sticks Pat Laconi and Hawkins) that induced an 0-for-23 shutout of Hopkins midfielders, Loyola held the Blue Jays (8-5) scoreless for the game's final 29:19.

"We didn't see anything we weren't expecting. Nothing caught us off guard," said Ratliff, who leads a potent defensive midfield with 13 goals, yet did not take a shot on Saturday while dominating the Blue Jays' Rob Guida (0-for-9).

"If you had told me we were going to hold [Loyola] to eight goals, I would have thought we were going to win," said a dejected Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala. "When you win more faceoffs, take more shots and win more ground balls, I'd like to think we're going to win. Today is not the first time that has happened. The moment was right in front of us, and we didn't seize it."

The Blue Jays wasted an excellent effort from their defense. Senior Tucker Durkin tied up Loyola attackman Justin Ward (one assist) from the opening whistle. Senior goalie Pierce Bassett made 12 saves. They wasted another great day from senior specialist Mike Poppleton, who won 11 of 15 faceoffs and scored a goal off of one victory and nearly had two more.

Now, Hopkins stands squarely on the wrong side of NCAA tournament bubble.

"There are expectations placed on you here. Those expectations are to make the NCAA playoffs and to compete for a national championship. I am disappointed and frustrated that we find ourselves in this position," Pietramala said. "But you are what your record says you are. If we take advantage of our opportunities, we're not having this conversation."

Ratliff said the Greyhounds feel elated by breaking through the Hopkins barrier, but they are taking nothing for granted with another ECAC title in their sights.

"I think we're still focused on needing that AQ," Ratliff said. "With the way college lacrosse has been this year, there's so much parity that we'd rather not sit around all day [on Selection Sunday] worrying about [making the NCAAs]. We want to win out and give our fans another home game."


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