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Loyola at Johns Hopkins
Saturday, 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
What's at stake It's homecoming at Homewood for this local rivalry with national implications. The Blue Jays (8-4) are battling for their playoff life; a loss would end one of the most forgettable seasons in their history. With a win, Hopkins puts itself right back into the hunt for an NCAA title. For the Greyhounds (10-3), a victory would boost their at-large resume and give them a fallback position if they're unable to secure the Eastern College Athletic Conference automatic bid next week.
Who to watch Hopkins' triggerman is faceoff specialist Mike Poppleton. He gives the Jays an extra six or seven possessions on a weekly basis. Midfielder Rob Guida has returned to the lineup, and his presence can't be underscored.
The matchup between Loyola attackman Justin Ward (Old Mill) and Hopkins defenseman Tucker Durkin is critical. Ward has become the centerpiece of Loyola's half-field sets under new offensive coordinator Dave Metzbower.
What will make the difference Loyola owns the top defensive midfield in the country, with Josh Hawkins (pictured), Pat Laconi and charismatic pole Scott Ratliff. They earn possessions, defend and even score goals.
The Blue Jays have been winning with defense, while shot selection has plagued their offense. "Hopkins must execute and score in half-field sets," ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said. "They need to capitalize on Poppleton's extra possessions."
Loyola is finally clicking. "The Greyhounds' transition game, the ability to run and score on Hopkins is key," Dixon said. "Loyola middies [Davis Butts, Chris Layne and Sean O'Sullivan] need to score in settled situations."
Loyola gets a slight edge, but it's offset by Hopkins' home-field advantage and the Blue Jays' dominance in the series under coach Dave Pietramala, who is 12-0 against his Charles Street foe. If there's one game you're going to attend as a fan, this is the must-see game of the spring. It'll have pageantry, playmaking and playoff implications.
April 6, 2013