Loyola on bubble as Hopkins pops in

May 03, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

In previous seasons, the battle of Charles Street wasn't much of a battle, just a formality. Johns Hopkins vs. Loyola was nothing more than a late-season pit stop and tuneup for the Blue Jays before they went on to the NCAA Division I tournament.

Not anymore.

Because of a tough schedule and some quality wins, No. 7 Hopkins (7-4) will still probably make the 16-team tournament field even if it loses to host and No. 18 Loyola (6-5) on Saturday. The Greyhounds are on the bubble, and if they win, they're probably in because they already have a quality win against No. 5 Georgetown (9-2).

And if they lose ...

Well, it has become a playoff situation for Loyola.

"This is a great position to be in because we haven't been in this position the past couple of years," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. "All you want late in the season is to have a chance, and we have a chance. Usually, this game has been just about Charles Street, but nothing else. Believe me, our kids know the importance of this game."

So does Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala.

The Blue Jays, defending national champions, have won two straight but are far from being the dominant team they were a year ago. A mini-winning streak would give the Blue Jays some confidence heading into the postseason.

But Loyola is 4-0 at home on Geppi-Aikens Field, where nothing comes easy against the Greyhounds.

"We haven't had a lot of games at home, but that was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, to go unbeaten here," Toomey said. "We've played with a lot of confidence here."

There wasn't much confidence when the season started in February. Only two months before, Toomey had unexpectedly replaced former coach Bill Dirrigl. Toomey had to quickly form a staff and put together a philosophy and schemes. The defense was no problem. Toomey was a two-time All-America goalie at Loyola, graduating in 1990.

Offense was a problem until the Greyhounds brought in Bobby Benson, a former player at Hopkins and assistant at UMBC. In previous years, the Greyhounds' offense was dull, unimaginative and motionless. Now, there are some pick and rolls, and motion. Attackmen aren't just shooting on the first look, but passing the ball around.

In the past three games, Loyola has scored 14, 12 and 11 goals. Eighty of the team's 112 goals have been assisted. When you watch Loyola play, you can see the Hopkins influence in the offense.

"Once Bobby came in, we started putting more goals on the board," Toomey said. "It took some time, but we're more mature now, and the kids are more comfortable with their positions on the field. They've really adapted to his philosophy."

In a way, Loyola will be like looking in the mirror when it plays Hopkins. Offensively, neither team reminds you of Syracuse or Virginia. This won't be an up-tempo game. It will be slow and methodical, more of a six-on-six, half-field game. The Greyhounds will need to slow Hopkins midfielders Greg Peyser, Paul Rabil and attackmen Kevin Huntley and Jake Byrne.

Loyola will counter with attackmen Dan Bauers, Ryan Rabidou and midfielders Andrew Spack and Paul Richards. Winning faceoffs is a necessity for Loyola, but the Greyhounds have another weapon in senior goalie Mike Fretwell.

He has been the rock.

When the offense was stagnant early in the season, he carried the Greyhounds. Fretwell has a goals-against average of 8.94 and a save percentage of .586.

"He's been a three-year starter for us," Toomey said of Fretwell. "A lot of guys on this team have stepped up, and we're moving in the right direction. We've had to battle through some things, some injuries, but these guys play hard for me every week.

"We've struggled winning games on the road, but we got one last week [11-6 at Hobart], and that was another major step for us," Toomey said. "Overall, I'm pretty happy with the way we've played.

"As for next season, I haven't given that a thought yet. We've been taking it one game at a time, and it's Hopkins. We're in position to make something happen, and it's on our field. This Charles Street game really means something now." mike.preston@baltsun.com

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