The Blue Jays' student section is in a frenzy as Johns Hopkins… (Doug Kapustin, Photo for…)
Talk all you want about the new era of parity in college lacrosse, there's still nothing to compare with the rivalry that put the "old" in old-school.
The 111th meeting between Maryland and Johns Hopkins drew a capacity-plus homecoming crowd to Homewood Field for a game that the No. 9 Blue Jays sorely needed to win to ensure that they would not be left out of the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
The fifth-ranked Terps did not need it nearly as much, and the case could probably be made that their urgency deficit was evident until the final minutes of an 11-6 Hopkins victory on a simply glorious spring afternoon.
"This is the way it's been in my four years here," said Maryland coach John Tillman. "The team that kind of came in as the underdog that needed that game, at least looking at the big picture a little bit more, has won the game. It's the facts. … Hats off to them for coming in here and getting a game they really wanted."
Days like this remind everyone that the state of Maryland is still the center of the lacrosse universe, and there are a lot more to come as the season ramps up to the NCAA championship weekend at M&T Bank Stadium on Memorial Day weekend May 24-26.
"What a great day for lacrosse … just an electric environment," said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala. "The Hopkins-Maryland game seems to bring that out in the community. This is what we all come here for. That's why I work here, and that's why these guys come to play here. A terrific opponent. We feel very fortunate to walk away with a win."
The Johns Hopkins Alumni Association distributed stickers before the game bearing the familiar slogan "Eat, Drink and Beat Maryland," but 1957 grad Bill Single didn't need one. He still has a large button bearing that sentiment that dates back to the 1960s.
Single, whose son played on a pair of Hopkins title teams, said there was no way to downplay the importance of the game for the Blue Jays and for Pietramala. It's the biggest game of the year regardless of the immediate implications, but the immediate implications for Hopkins took it to a new level on Saturday.
"It's huge," Single said before the first faceoff. "It's bigger than huge."
Pietramala has led the Blue Jays to six national semifinal appearances and two NCAA titles during his 13-plus seasons as coach, but even the possibility of missing the tournament for the second year in a row had gotten the whisper mill churning.
"He's been Coach of the Year at two Division I schools … that's amazing," Single said. "He will be on the hot seat [if the Blue Jays fail to make the tournament]," Single said. "I don't think he should be, but he will be."
John and Patricia Ritz of Churchville arrived early, even though they are longtime ticket holders in the reserved section. John's Homewood roots date back three generations. His father graduated from Hopkins in 1932. He graduated in 1982 after a military career. Patricia is a Loyola Maryland graduate, which must have made for an interesting dynamic two years ago, when the Greyhounds won it all.
"I've been a Blue Jays fan since I was knee-high to Hector's pup,'' John said. "She's a Hound."
Where else but at Johns Hopkins could you stumble into a sports fan and get an obscure reference to Greek mythology?
Ritz looked at the game Saturday as both a beginning and an ending. The greatest rivalry in lacrosse is moving into a new era next season, when both the Blue Jays and the Terps join the Big Ten.
"Hopkins is in a unique position,'' he said. "Next year, for the first time, they're going to be part of a conference. Since the beginning of time, they were independent. They always got an invitation because we're an elite team. If you're in a conference, you [can] get an automatic bid."
The Blue Jays almost certainly will be getting that invitation this year, thanks in part to the way they went wire to wire on Saturday to record a quality win they needed to position themselves for the final four weeks of the regular season.
That was certainly preferable to sweating out a win-or-else showdown against top-ranked Loyola in their final game.
Pietramala said after the game that he isn't focused on the big picture — just his team's next game — but he couldn't help but be excited about the show his school put on for the Big Ten representatives in attendance Saturday.
"That's what's coming to the Big Ten," he said. "The Hopkins-Maryland rivarly has been huge for 111 meetings. I think this rivalry is tremendous for the conference. … I just think it brings instant credibility to the conference."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.