Throughout a frustrating game in which they had controlled so much on a hot and humid day, Johns Hopkins kept sensing a decisive run was at hand.
When the Blue Jays finally made it happen, Delaware, the upstart at the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament final four, was cooked. And Hopkins was headed for yet another appearance in the national championship game.
Junior midfielder Stephen Peyser and freshman midfielder Michael Kimmel each scored three times in yesterday's national semifinal, and Hopkins scored five consecutive goals in the second half to pull away to an 8-3 victory before 52,004 at M&T Bank Stadium.
It was the largest crowd ever to witness an NCAA lacrosse game.
The third-seeded Blue Jays (12-4) will face No. 1 seed Duke in a rematch of the 2005 final won by Hopkins. To get to their 17th NCAA title game, the Blue Jays won their eighth straight by leading from wire to wire, and they did it the hard way against unseeded Delaware, which made its final four debut.
The Hopkins defense, a much-improved unit since midseason, put the clamps on Delaware. The Blue Hens scored a season-low three goals, also the lowest production by a single team ever in the final four. And the Hopkins faceoff combination of Peyser and senior Jamison Koesterer neutralized Delaware (13-6) senior Alex Smith, the best specialist in the game.
Offensively, it was a struggle for Hopkins. The Blue Jays had no assists, failed to convert a number of choice shots, dropped numerous passes inside, got no production from their starting attack and could not break free for the longest time.
Then, starting with a goal by backup attackman Tom Duerr late in the third quarter, Peyser and Kimmel fueled a 5-0 run that turned a 3-2 contest into a rout.
"We just kind of grinded it out on offense," said Peyser, who produced a season high and matched his career high in goals scored. "We didn't have a good day, we know that."
Said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala: "I thought we played a spectacular game defensively and did a very good job in the goal. We were poor offensively. We seemed tight. We pressed. We just needed to stay the course and capitalize on opportunities, and thankfully, we did."
In a game that featured the lowest scoring total in NCAA tournament history -- Hopkins led 2-1 at halftime -- the Blue Jays dug deep into their bench and kept plugging away, while the Blue Hens faded in the blistering sun.
Hopkins senior goalkeeper Jesse Schwartzman was solid with 10 saves, but the Most Valuable Player of the 2005 tournament was rarely under duress. Delaware could not generate a fast tempo and rarely was able to work the ball inside. That left the Blue Hens largely relying on their left-handed midfielders to shoot from the outside.
It played right into the hands of the Blue Jays' zone, which invited the low-percentage shot and tried to force the Blue Hens to their right all day. Delaware shot an abysmal 3-for-37. Only 13 shots were on goal.
Senior midfielders Jordan Hall and Dan Deckelbaum combined for one goal and one assist. Senior attackman Adam Zuder-Havens, Delaware's leading scorer, was shut out.
The Blue Jays dominated time of possession and ran good offense for much of the day. By the second half, their midfielders were running past defenders and getting clean looks at the net. Had Delaware junior goalie Tommy Scherr not stepped up to make 11 saves, it could have been much worse for the Blue Hens.
"We were playing a lot of defense in the first half and our defense was doing a great job," Scherr said. "But as the game wore on, they really did wear us down."
Delaware coach Bob Shillinglaw said: "I thought our effort was there offensively, but our offense wasn't in sync. We weren't able to share the ball. Obviously, Hopkins has an outstanding defense."
The Blue Jays went three midfields deep, played five attackmen, and never let Delaware get on a run. That started with the way they countered Smith in the faceoff circle. Peyser won three of six draws against him, and Koesterer won five of nine.
And once Duerr, Kimmel and Peyser scored in a span of 1:45 that bridged the third and fourth quarters to make it 6-2, the Blue Jays were on their way to getting another shot at Duke. The Blue Devils beat Hopkins at Homewood Field, 11-9, on April 7.
"We've learned to win games any way. We don't really care how we win," Pietramala said. "Either way, we'll be the underdog [tomorrow]. We're enjoying that role."