Save banks 9th title

Jays turn back Blue Devils on Schwartzman's final stop at :07

Johns Hopkins 12 Duke 11

Ncaa Lacrosse Championship

May 29, 2007|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun reporter

With a national title on the line and time running out on a Duke team that was the undisputed darling of a huge crowd at M&T Bank Stadium, Johns Hopkins senior goalie Jesse Schwartzman admitted he didn't get a good look at the shot.

But Schwartzman was there again yesterday when the Blue Jays needed him most. And after his kick save stopped a 7-yard shot from the right side of the crease by Duke midfielder Brad Ross with seven seconds left, and a desperation 17-yarder by attackman Max Quinzani went wide right as time expired, Hopkins had topped off its grinding journey with another crown.

The last of Schwartzman's 15 saves capped a dramatic 12-11 victory over top-seeded Duke, before a title-game record crowd of 48,443, as the No. 3 seed Blue Jays won their second NCAA Division I men's championship in the past three seasons and the ninth in school history.

This was no ordinary triumph by any stretch, starting with the way the Blue Jays confronted their strange role as decided underdogs on a field just four miles from the Homewood campus. Duke, the team seeking a magical ending, trying to make things right on the field after losing its 2006 season when three players were falsely accused of rape, was the fan favorite.

And Hopkins, trying to take down the same school it edged by a goal for the championship in 2005 and the last team to beat it in 2007, blocked out the periphery and fed off it all the same.

"We were the forgotten sons. We used it as motivation," said Hopkins junior midfielder Stephen Peyser, who completed a sparkling final four weekend by scoring two goals, adding an assist and winning nine of 14 faceoffs.

"That's why you come to Hopkins. You're the New York Yankees of the lacrosse world," Peyser added. "We said we were going to do this quietly and sneak up on everyone. We're going to show the lacrosse world what we're made of."

Hopkins (13-4) did just that, while winning its ninth straight game and becoming the first team with four losses to win it all since Virginia in 1972.

First, the Blue Jays hit Duke (17-3) with a near-flawless first half. They won the game's first nine faceoffs, shot the ball with lights-out efficiency and silenced the peerless attack duo of Matt Danowski and Zack Greer -- and the crowd -- while rolling to a shocking 10-4 lead at halftime.

Then came the inevitable Duke run, a 5-0 third-quarter outburst. Then, after Duke tied the score at 11 during a sloppy fourth quarter, when a pass from long-stick midfielder Nick O'Hara glanced off Quinzani's stick and into the net with 4:37 left, it set up a dramatic finish.

It started with Hopkins junior midfielder Paul Rabil, who was the best player on the field with six points, including a career-high five assists. After Peyser foiled a Duke clear near midfield by checking the ball loose from midfielder Brad Ross, Rabil scooped it up and zipped a 20-yard pass to junior attackman Kevin Huntley, who was open on the crease.

Huntley, who had committed two turnovers a few minutes earlier and had struggled throughout the regular season with his shooting, faked out Duke goalie Dan Loftus and scored for a 12-11 lead with 3:25 left.

The rest was up to the defense and Schwartzman. With 1:44 left, the senior from Pikesville High stopped Greer's sixth and final shot, as Greer went 0-for-6 in his second straight scoreless title game. But the moment of truth came after the teams exchanged turnovers, Duke retained possession and Ross took aim, trying to force overtime.

"I really didn't read [the shot] too well," said Schwartzman, who had his own up-and-down issues this year in the cage, but rallied to win his second Most Outstanding Player award in the tournament. "I couldn't get my stick there, so I just kicked my [left] leg out and just prayed the ball would hit my leg, and it did."

Seconds later, the Blue Jays were piling on top of each other at one end of the field in celebration, while Duke was huddled in sadness. Off to the side, Hopkins senior midfielder Brendan Skakandi and Danowski, former teammates at Farmingdale (N.Y.) High School, embraced.

"It's just an extreme feeling of emptiness," said Danowski, who was held to one goal and one assist, and talked with teary eyes after the loss.

John Danowski, Matt's father, who took over at Duke last summer as the replacement for Mike Pressler -- he was forced to resign and talked with the team before and after the game -- also broke down after the game.

"The love or respect or affection I have for these kids, it will run through my core for the rest of my life," Danowski said. "The pressure that was on them, and how people talked about them, and how the media portrayed them, and all they did was persevere every day. This isn't Hollywood. There are no storybook endings for them, and for that I'm sad."

The Blue Jays pressed on, as well. After a rare three-game losing streak, Hopkins stood at 4-4, with its NCAA tournament hopes in the balance. Starting with an overtime win at Maryland, the Blue Jays started their winning ride, and the upperclassmen took over.

Senior attackman Jake Byrne finished his college career with four goals yesterday. Rabil and Peyser dominated the first half. Fourth-year junior defenseman Eric Zerrlaut smothered Greer on the crease. Huntley came through with three goals.

"There was a lot of doubt [earlier]. But they banded together and worked awfully hard," Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "We've had great leadership from our seniors and juniors. They did some things that were absolutely spectacular, and to win this game, this weekend, in that fashion, was very special."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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