JHU unable to catch `slow' Tigers' attack

May 26, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Princeton's offense is often accused of operating at a snail's pace, but Johns Hopkins couldn't keep up with the Tigers yesterday.

By the time Hopkins found a way to solve Princeton's attack, the Tigers had a five-goal lead early in the second quarter, and then held on for an 11-9 win against the Blue Jays in the NCAA Division I lacrosse semifinals at Rutgers Stadium. After the game, Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala blamed some of the Blue Jays' defensive lapses on inexperience, some of which was true.

But spotting Princeton a five-goal lead is like giving the New York Yankees three runs, the St. Louis Rams two touchdowns or the Los Angeles Lakers 15 points. It's basically a death sentence because after acquiring a lead, Princeton taunts teams with its precise, deliberate offense.

But in the first 30 minutes yesterday, the Tigers had too much athleticism, and their attack was too multi-faceted for Hopkins to stop. If Tigers attackman B.J. Prager wasn't hurting the Blue Jays in front of the crease with five goals, then fellow attackman Ryan Boyle was drawing double teams and then feeding with three assists.

Third attackman Sean Hartofilis, the mad bomber from outside, had only one goal, but he didn't have to have a lot of impact because Princeton was so successful around the crease.

"I really didn't think we were quicker than them, but we were today," Prager said. "We moved the ball well. We worked all week on being unselfish, and we did a very good job of that today. We dodged, then drew a slide. When that happened, we banged the ball across the crease.

"The first time we played Hopkins, they didn't slide to me," Prager said. "We were prepared for that. Today, they started sliding to me, and I was glad to see that."

Hopkins slid, but Blue Jays defensemen Michael Peyser, P.J. DiConza and Con Roufanis were late most of the first half. Hopkins couldn't control Boyle from the side of the goal. After he left the Blue Jays flat-footed several times, he would pass off to a wide-open Prager in the middle.

After a while, it became embarrassing.

Hopkins goalkeeper Nick Murtha finished with eight saves, but had virtually no chance in the first half with Princeton shooting from point-blank range.

"It was more of what we didn't do than what Princeton did," Murtha said. "Our coaches had a great game plan, and we just didn't play like we should have. They [Princeton] opened things up in front and put themselves in position for some easy goals. They have great shooters and their offense is very dangerous. They found the corners and shot low and did a great job today. We didn't want Prager cutting across the crease."

"Apparently, we didn't do a very good job. He had five goals," said Pietramala, shaking his head in disappointment. "We dug ourselves into too big of a hole in the first half, and with the way Princeton plays, it's hard to dig yourself out."

It's hard because Princeton is a reflection of its coach. There is no coach more precise and more attentive to detail than Tigers coach Bill Tierney. The Tigers don't lose games; they make other teams win them. The offense is boring at times, but Princeton, the team of the 1990s, is becoming the team of the new century.

The Tigers keep coming up big in championship games, and Prager was absolutely huge yesterday. In last year's national title game won by Princeton against Syracuse, Prager had four goals.

"I like to think of myself as a big-time player," Prager said. "There is an excitement here playing in Rutgers. There are thousands of fans, and it's easy to get up for a game like this compared to other games.

"Our offense has been playing well since March 30 when we kind of turned it around, and opened it up a little bit," he said. "A lot of people give us some grief for being a slow-down team, but we're just a smart team. We're going to keep doing what we're doing. We know when to run; we know when to pull it out."

Princeton was aggressive early. Midfielder Brad Dumont scored the game's first goal with 13:02 left in the first quarter, and midfielder Josh White scored nearly three minutes later outside the crease for a 2-0 lead. Prager scored an extra-man goal on an assist from fellow attackman Brendan Tierney with 4:34 remaining, followed by a goal from Dumont with 51 seconds remaining and another from Prager 35 seconds later.

Both teams scored two goals in the second quarter, but Princeton led 7-3 at the half, and then it was time for Tierney to run time off the clock. The Blue Jays showed the same resiliency they have shown all season by fighting back, but the mountain was too high to climb.

"Our inexperience showed in the first half," Pietramala said. "[In the second half] we settled down, played a blue-collar brand of lacrosse. ... but you have to be better than that to beat the defending national champions."

Said Prager: "You have to respect each member of our attack because we each bring something different. We've been playing together for two years now. We've played about 30 games together. When we're on, we work well together."

Hopkins found that out early yesterday. Very early.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.