This was not your garden variety lacrosse matchup. It was ace against ace. Your best against mine. Tony Seaman's best attackman against Roy Simmons' best defenseman.
It was this: Johns Hopkins' Matt Panetta vs. Syracuse's Pat McCabe.
Seaman and Simmons would not distill it that far, instead spreading the blame and credit. But there is no question that Panetta vs. McCabe was one key to fifth-seeded Syracuse's 11-8 victory over No. 4 Johns Hopkins in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal yesterday before 10,723 at Homewood.
In March, when Hopkins upended the three-time defending NCAA champion Orange, 18-12, in the Carrier Dome, Panetta starred with three goals and three assists. It was no aberration, for Panetta went into yesterday's game as the Blue Jays' leading scorer with 27 goals.
Although McCabe won the William Schmeisser Cup as the nation's top defenseman last year, Simmons, in his wisdom, didn't assign him to shadow Panetta that night in March. Yesterday McCabe got Panetta full time.
McCabe won the duel, restricting Panetta to one goal and no assists. The senior from Holtsville, N.Y., was blanked until 6 1/2 minutes remained.
"Pat took it as a personal challenge," Simmons said. "It was more than No. 29 against No. 22. They've been friends since childhood. They played on the same Elmont [N.Y.] High School team.
"We put Pat on him this time because his takeaway style is made for an attackman like Matt. You saw the No. 1 defenseman in the country handle Mr. Panetta."
In defense of Panetta, Seaman pointed out that, as many times as McCabe took the ball away from Panetta, maybe four or five, Panetta beat the Orange defenseman only to be stymied by goalie Jerry DeLorenzo.
"DeLorenzo made super saves," Seaman said. "We had a few set plays to free up Matt, and they worked. Unfortunately, DeLorenzo came up big."
Said Simmons, "McCabe was disruptive. He gave Panetta something to think about, which made Jerry's job easier."
Conceding that McCabe played "pretty well the whole game," Panetta said, "I got frustrated about the third time DeLorenzo stopped me. Maybe I was thinking too much, rather than just shooting. His saves early got his confidence up."
DeLorenzo, a sophomore, acknowledged that he was hardly an all-star in the first game against Hopkins. After opening with three road games, it was Syracuse's first game at the Carrier Dome.
"I couldn't stop a beachball," DeLorenzo said.
March wasn't over before Syracuse had two defeats, to North Carolina and Hopkins. When the Orange players studied the tournament seedings and saw they were in position to avenge both losses before the final, Simmons said they were ecstatic.
No. 5 Syracuse will face No. 1 North Carolina in one semifinal Saturday in the Carrier Dome, its home arena, while No. 7 Maryland will take on No. 11 Towson State in the other.
"We don't look at it as revenge, but as opportunities to come through the bracket and do it the hard way," Simmons said. "I said I hoped we could play the Little Sisters of the Poor in the Dome. The kids wanted North Carolina, so they could hurt them where they live."
On three occasions in the final quarter, when the Blue Jays were entertaining the notion of a comeback, they were deflated. When Hopkins closed to within 7-6, the Orange scored six seconds later. Syracuse did that twice more, each time in 18 seconds.
Seaman had no difficulty explaining why Hopkins couldn't duplicate its win in March.
"We missed the cage more than we did all year," he said. "At Syracuse, we hit everything. That was the difference."