Gvozden, Jays' defense come through

ON LACROSSE

May 25, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Ninety-two seconds into the game, Johns Hopkins goalie Michael Gvozden made a one-on-one save against attackman Max Quinzani, one of Duke's best shooters.

In the closing seconds, Gvozden came up big again, this time stopping a shot by attackman Matt Danowski, one of the top players in college lacrosse.

It was like that all day for the Blue Devils.

No. 5 seed Hopkins turned in a complete defensive effort in a 10-9 upset victory over No. 1 seed Duke yesterday and stunned an announced crowd of 48,224 at Gillette Stadium.

Hopkins (11-5) will play No. 3 seed Syracuse (15-2) tomorrow in the national championship game, but if the Blue Jays play defense against the Orange the same way they played against the Blue Devils, there will be another title plaque on the wall soon.

Duke entered the game averaging slightly more than 15 goals a game, but the Blue Devils never found a rhythm against the Blue Jays.

The Blue Devils usually have one or two scoring runs a game that take the life out of opponents, but they had only two short ones yesterday, and the Blue Jays survived.

Duke had only one lead in the game, 2-1, at the end of the first quarter. At one point, the Blue Jays held the Blue Devils scoreless for 20 minutes, 2 seconds.

That's almost like mission impossible.

"They usually play with a lead," Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "We wanted to see how they would react late in a game if we were ahead."

Duke melted down and panicked. The Blue Devils committed 15 turnovers, five of those on errant passes when they tried to throw across the Blue Jays' defense from one side to the other.

There were other times when Duke simply couldn't pitch and catch, as if the Blue Devils hadn't practiced for about a week. Maybe they came into the game a bit cocky because they beat the Blue Jays, 17-6, earlier in the season.

But after yesterday, Duke might have been the best lacrosse team to never win a championship. Blue Devils coach John Danowski didn't have any answers for the subpar play, and his team certainly had no answer for Gvozden, who finished with 17 saves and outplayed his counterpart, Dan Loftus, who had 11.

"He either made some big saves or we hit pipes," Quinzani said. "Their offense held the ball for long periods of times and we got frustrated, which forced us into some passes we didn't need to make."

But Gvozden wasn't the only standout on defense. Close defenseman Michael Evans had one-on-one coverage on Danowski. Danowski had two goals and an assist, but he didn't control the tempo of this game as he had so many others.

Most teams slide to Danowski, which allows him to assist on a lot of goals. Evans shadowed him all over the field and didn't get any help.

"We felt that if we slid off Matt, that would allow him to be the great feeder that he is, and allow Zack Greer to be the great finisher that he is," Pietramala said.

Greer? He had one goal and three assists, but he didn't control the pace of this game, either, especially with defenseman Eric Zerrlaut draped all over him.

The Blue Jays didn't have a complicated defensive scheme. It was basic, and vintage Pietramala. They turned the Blue Devils away from the middle of the field inside the restraining line, and they forced them to drive the alleys.

Once that happened, Hopkins slid defenders from the perimeter to help out, except for on Danowski. The Blue Jays switched up and played some man-to-man and zone, but they kept everything tight in the middle and didn't allow themselves to be exposed much one-on-one except for some brief matchups in the third period.

"They separated each play throughout the game, whether it was us making it a three-goal game or them going up by three goals," Danowski said. "They stuck to their game plan, and they didn't allow us to execute like we wanted to. Hats off to them. They've been in these situations before, and it seemed like nothing really fazed them throughout the game."

The Blue Jays had the perfect game plan. They got an early lead and won 13 of 22 faceoffs. They were patient with almost every possession as if it were their last, holding on to the ball for minutes at a time.

And Hopkins also made sure its two standout midfielders, Paul Rabil and Stephen Peyser, touched the ball. Because when they start runs from the middle of the field, most teams have to double-team them. Then, they either shoot or dump it off for easy assists.

"It's real simple," John Danowski said. "Hopkins beat us in a lacrosse game. Those guys did a great job with ball possession and defending us. They flat-out beat us."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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