For a time, it appeared that the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team was in a comfortable position to end a run of two straight losses in Annapolis. That comfort, however, didn't materialize until the final buzzer.
The No. 5 Blue Jays overcame a lengthy drought on offense and withstood a valiant charge by host Navy to escape with a 6-5 win before an announced 8,655 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Friday night.
Johns Hopkins collected its fourth consecutive win and improved to 9-3, but not without some tension in the final minutes of regulation.
After senior attackman Brandon Benn converted a feed from sophomore attackman Ryan Brown (Calvert Hall) to give the Blue Jays a 6-3 lead with 8 minutes, 4 seconds left in the third quarter, Hopkins went scoreless over the final 23:04. The Midshipmen (4-8) pounced on the opportunity with goals from senior attackmen Sam Jones (Severna Park) and Tucker Hull to cut the deficit to one.
But the defense bailed out the Blue Jays. Senior goalkeeper Eric Schneider made his 16th and 17th saves in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter to outduel Midshipmen sophomore John Connors (14 stops), and junior long-stick midfielder Michael Pellegrino knocked down a skip pass by senior midfielder Austin Heneveld with less than 30 seconds left to preserve the victory.
"I think it was real good for our group to finish," said Schneider, whose effort was the second most of his season thus far. "A lot of times in practice and stuff, we haven't been finishing, and in past games, especially against Virginia, we didn't finish when we had a lead. I think today just shows that we've grown as a group. It was a good effort."
The Blue Jays held an opponent to less than 10 goals for the fourth straight game, but coach Dave Pietramala said the team was fortunate to depart with a win.
"We were challenged tonight," he said. "For whatever reason, we struggle in this building and for whatever reason, they play different lacrosse in this building. If that team played that way every game, they wouldn't be 4-7. They played with tremendous energy tonight, they got a great effort from their faceoff guy. I thought early on, we got some great opportunities, some really great ones, and we didn't cash in. And then I thought we got tight. It was, 'Oh no, here we go again.'"
Benn, who led all scorers with four goals and became the 17th player in program history to reach the 100-goal mark, was the lone bright spot for the offense.
Junior attackman Wells Stanwick (Boys' Latin), who entered the game leading the Blue Jays in assists (36) and points (50), registered just one assist as he was shadowed relentlessly by senior defenseman Nik Mullen.
Brown, who returned after sitting out Monday's 17-2 rout at Mount St. Mary's with a minor injury, added just one goal to his team-leading total of 32.
Benn, however, chastised himself for not being as efficient as he could have been.
"Even at times, I took a couple shots that weren't that great," he said. "I could have put them in better spots. One thing that coach has preached to me in the four years that I've been here is to just worry about the next one. I feel like that's one thing I was able to do tonight. Just try to focus on the next one and not let the previous one that I missed affect the next shots that come after that."
Jones paced Navy with one goal and two assists, and the man-up offense snapped an 0-for-11 drought when Jones beat Schneider from 15 yards with 5:22 left in the third quarter.
The Midshipmen finished 1 of 5 in extra-man chances and failed to score 10 goals for the sixth time in their last seven games — those games ended with a loss.
They will limp into Tuesday night's Patriot League tournament quarterfinal at Lehigh without some of the momentum they were searching for.
"We came up a little short, but I can live with that," coach Rick Sowell said. "Losing's no fun. I think we all know that. We don't play this game to lose. We play the game to win, and that's ultimately what we're chasing, that feeling. But I couldn't be more proud of the way they battled and fought and hung in there. Hopefully, we can carry this into Tuesday. We've got to play Lehigh, another good team. But I'm very proud of the way our guys performed tonight."