This time, Blue Jays lose their passion, too

NCAA Lacrosse Final Four

May 30, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

BETWEEN NOW and next season, Johns Hopkins lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala has to do some soul-searching within himself and his team. Every year we read, hear and write about the Blue Jays being the complete team.

And then they lose in the NCAA tournament.

In the previous three seasons under Pietramala, at least there were some excuses. The Blue Jays were too young, or they ran into a hot goalie. But 2004 was going to be different. According to a lot of Division I coaches, Hopkins had the best team and the best players.

But guess who was a no-show yesterday in the NCAA semifinals?

Before a record crowd of 46,923 at M&T Bank Stadium, No. 4 seed Syracuse ripped No. 1 Hopkins, 15-9. The Orange will play Navy tomorrow in the championship game, while the Blue Jays head back to their Homewood campus frustrated.


"It was one of those games where you look back and you wonder, what could we have done differently?" Pietramala said. "We did a lot of things today that were very uncharacteristic of us, particularly in the defensive end. We missed slides; we hesitated a lot."

There was much more that went wrong. And if Pietramala doesn't have all the answers by tomorrow night, he'll have them Tuesday morning from phone calls and e-mails that he'll receive from Hopkins alumni. At Hopkins, everybody is a lacrosse expert.

It has been 17 years since the Blue Jays won a national championship, and this was one of the most disappointing losses for a state school since top-ranked and unbeaten Maryland lost to Hopkins in the 1987 tournament semifinals, 13-8.

Maybe the most disturbing aspect of yesterday's loss was that after Hopkins took an 8-7 lead on Greg Peyser's goal with 4:36 left in the third quarter, Syracuse closed out the period with four unanswered goals and the Blue Jays quit.

They played with no passion, desire or emotion in the fourth quarter. Pietramala couldn't reach his team, and now he has to question himself about what he needs to do differently in the postseason.

The Blue Jays have entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed three of the past four years, but they've played in the championship game only once, losing to Virginia, 9-7, last season.

"I am proud of our guys, I love them dearly, I know they care," Pietramala said. "I just don't think we played the way we're capable of. [Syracuse] played like a team that had lost convincingly the last two times [vs. the Blue Jays], and my hat's off to [Orange coach] John Desko, his staff and his players.

"Is there one thing that I can point to and say, that's why we lost? The answer is no. I think it was a culmination of a lot of things."

Not too many people will argue. Desko outcoached Pietramala. The Blue Jays had no answer for the Syracuse zone, which shut off Hopkins attackman and leading scorer Conor Ford. They couldn't figure out a way to stop the Orange's pick-and-rolls inside their zone defense.

Syracuse controlled the faceoffs and the game's pace by running a more deliberate offense instead of using its usual transition game. Syracuse had a 45-37 advantage in shots, and the Orange won 17 of 27 faceoffs.

Before yesterday's game, Hopkins had won 60.7 percent of its faceoffs.

"The coach was putting it in our ear all week," said Syracuse attackman Michael Powell. "The thing that I hate most on the field is sitting and watching their offense from the other side because you feel helpless.

"We wanted beat them at their game ... and make them sit down there, and guys like Conor Ford and Kyle Harrison get a little anxious, like I do when I'm watching their offense dominate. It forces them to make bad decisions, and that's something they aren't used to doing."

But sometimes it wasn't about bad decisions, but no decisions at all. The Hopkins offense, with the exception of Harrison, was motionless. Where were attackmen Peter LeSueur and Kyle Barrie? Barrie, a first-team All American last season, was shut out for the second straight week. LeSueur had one assist yesterday.

And while Hopkins couldn't get it done on the offensive end, Blue Jays defensemen Tom Garvey, Matt Pinto and Chris Watson were getting exposed by Powell (one goal, three assists), fellow attackman Brian Nee (four goals) and midfielder Kevin Dougherty (five goals).

The less-athletic Blue Jays just couldn't keep up with their Orange counterparts. With about five minutes remaining, some of the Hopkins fans began exiting for the parking lots.

It signaled the end of another good regular season for the Blue Jays, but another postseason that ended in frustration. Over the years, the Blue Jays have had some of the nation's top recruiting classes, but there is something wrong here.

It's one thing to lose with passion, and another to lose without it. Yesterday, the Blue Jays didn't have it in the second half. At least now Pietramala has an entire offseason to try to figure out what happened, and to make sure it doesn't happen again. Not in the tournament, anyway.

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