Johns Hopkins survived a rough March schedule in appropriate fashion yesterday, as the Blue Jays held North Carolina scoreless over the final nine minutes to escape with an important 9-8 victory before 3,789 at Homewood Field.
The man leading the Blue Jays' high-wire act was senior goalie Jonathan Marcus, who punctuated Hopkins' finest defensive effort of the year with 20 saves, including 16 in the second half and 10 in the fourth quarter.
In a game that featured five ties and four lead changes, Marcus saved his most impressive work for the stretch.
First, freshman attackman Dan Denihan and midfielder Billy Evans scored back-to-back goals over a 37-second span to turn an 8-7 deficit into a 9-8 edge for the Blue Jays. Evans' game-winner, his third score of the day, came with 7: 47 left after he picked up a loose ball near the North Carolina goal and dodged a defender on the left wing before beating Tar Heels goalie Brooks Brown (18 saves).
Marcus took it from there. Over the next three minutes, he stopped three strong North Carolina shots, and Tar Heels attackman Brendan Carey (three goals) hit the pipe twice. With 25 seconds left, Carey fired a low, underhand shot from 15 yards out that Marcus smothered to preserve the win.
The sixth-ranked Blue Jays (3-2) avoided their first 2-3 start in six seasons and kept themselves in position for a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament by handing No. 4 North Carolina (6-3) its third defeat in its past four games. Hopkins rebounded well from last week's 14-9 loss at Virginia.
The Blue Jays also could count a victory over Syracuse in the season's first month.
"We played four of the top five teams in the country in March," said Hopkins coach Tony Seaman, whose team will face Army and Rutgers over a four-day stretch beginning Saturday before playing host to Maryland on April 13. "If we could survive March and get a little better every week, that's as good as expectations as I could have."
The Blue Jays can thank their defense, which probably will carry them to their highest possible heights in May. Yesterday, defensemen John Gagliardi, Brian Kuczma and freshman Rob Doerr led the way.
Doerr held midfielder Jason Wade scoreless, a week after Wade scored a school-record eight goals against Maryland. Kuczma shut down Carey after he scored two goals early, when the Tar Heels jumped to a 4-2 lead. Gagliardi produced several key take-aways in crunch time.
The Blue Jays also threw an effective zone defense at North Carolina in the second half, when the Tar Heels converted only three of 29 shots.
Attackman Merrill Turnbull, who entered the contest as the team's leading scorer and finished with one assist, rarely got a good look at the goal.
But mainly Hopkins can thank Marcus, who shook off a tough first period and allowed only four goals over the last 49 minutes.
"We needed this game, especially on a confidence level. I knew I was going to have to make some big saves," said Marcus, who was stung for eight second-quarter goals last week against Virginia. "I was terrible in the first quarter today. I thought I was playing on a soccer net."
At times, Blue Jays shooters could have used a soccer net. Hopkins went 0-for-4 on extra-man opportunities, and drove Seaman crazy by misfiring on a number of point-blank chances.
Among the most encouraging signs was the play of Denihan. A week after going 0-for-12 at Virginia, he rebounded by scoring three goals, including two in the second half. After scoring the Blue Jays' only goal of the third quarter, he started the decisive two-goal spurt. With 8: 24 left, he followed his own miss by converting a feed on the crease from Dave Marr (two goals, two assists).
That tied the game at 8, setting up Evans for the clincher.
Pub Date: 3/31/96