PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Stage fright was the determining factor in Princeton's 11-9 defeat of Johns Hopkins in yesterday's NCAA men's lacrosse semifinals.
Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala avoided voicing the fear beforehand that his team's youth would be compounded by the savvy of the defending champion Tigers, but that's exactly what occurred in front of 23,123 at Rutgers Stadium. Princeton went ahead in the second minute, and led the rest of the way. Top-seeded Hopkins was down 6-1 before it knew it was in a game.
"We've played in front of great crowds, we've been in tight games, we've been on TV," Pietramala said, "but I don't know if you can simulate [this], win and you go to the national championship, lose and you go home. Our inexperience showed in the first half. We settled down, played a blue-collar brand of lacrosse and had some great opportunities, but you have to be better than that to beat the defending national champions."
Hopkins (12-2) couldn't duplicate its March 2 win over the Tigers, who were ranked No. 1 in the preseason. Fourth-seeded Princeton (10-4) can avenge another of its March losses tomorrow, when it meets Syracuse for the national championship.
It will be the third straight final for the Tigers, who are after their seventh title in 11 seasons. The Blue Jays last played on Memorial Day in 1989, when Pietramala was one of their senior stars. As Princeton coach Bill Tierney explained, the Tigers know how "to handle the situation, whether there are 3,000 or 30,000 in the stands."
Princeton got five goals from senior B.J. Prager, the Most Outstanding Player in last year's tournament. He was guarded by Chris Watson, one of the nine freshmen in the Hopkins' rotation. When classmate Kyle Harrison took a knee to the head and had to sit out several faceoffs in the third quarter, he was replaced by another freshman, Lou Braun.
Nick Murtha isn't a freshman, but he is a rookie starter in the goal. With Ryan Boyle, a sophomore from Gilman, directing the Tigers' offense, they converted five of their eight shots in the first quarter.
"I wasn't scared at all," Murtha said. "Once the first whistle blew, I was ready, but Princeton shot the ball really well. Some guys were a little nervous, they had to get their feet wet."
The little things pushed Hopkins over the hump in six one-goal games, but the big things - goalie play and shooting - hurt it yesterday. While the Princeton attack conducted a clinical dissection, Hopkins scored once in the first 25 minutes. Bobby Benson, the junior from McDonogh who led the Blue Jays in goals and points, didn't produce a single point against the marking of Scott Farrell.
Brad Dumont, a high school teammate of Benson's, put Princeton on top with 1:58 elapsed. When Boyle fed Brendan Tierney, the coach's son, in an extra-man situation, the Tigers enjoyed a 6-1 spread with 12 minutes to go in the half.
Junior midfielder Adam Doneger cut the difference to 7-3 just 58 seconds before Hopkins went into its locker room, where the topics included the Blue Jays' rallies that beat Syracuse and Maryland and the six-goal lead on Massachusetts in the quarterfinals that they wasted.
"There was no panic," Pietramala said. "Against a team that plays an up-tempo style like a UMass and Syracuse, it's a little easier to creep back in it, but Princeton doesn't play that style. They're a little slower, very solid defensively."
The Blue Jays got within 7-5 and 9-7, but each time the Tigers answered with two goals. Freshman Kyle Barrie, who like Doneger had three goals, began the final Hopkins push with an extra-man goal. Kevin Boland, a sophomore midfielder from Gilman, closed the scoring with 3:41 left. He had two chances to cut it to one in the 58th minute, but Princeton was in command the entire way.
"All these rookies gained what Princeton had coming in," Pietramala said. "We needed to be in the spotlight, in a tough game. If we're fortunate to get back next year, we're not the rookie."
Princeton 5 2 2 2 - 11
Johns Hopkins 1 2 4 2 - 9
Goals: P-Prager 5, Dumont 2, Tierney, Daly, Hartofilis, White; JH-Doneger 3, Barrie 3, LeSueur, Hanna, Boland. Assists: P-Boyle 3, Tierney 2, Trevenen; JH-LeSueur 3, Harrison, Ford, Doneger Saves: P-Gould 12; JH-Murtha 8.