Loyola (12-1) suffered its first setback of the season and missed out on a chance to record the best start in the program’s history. The team lost for the 13th consecutive time to the Blue Jays and will lose its spot atop the rankings in many publications.
But what the loss entails for the Greyhounds in the big picture is still undetermined. They are still the top seed in the Eastern College Athletic Conference, which begins Wednesday in Denver. And although they dropped in the RPI rankings as compiled by Laxpower.com – a very credible website – from first to third as of Sunday night, Loyola is still a likely candidate for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Perhaps that’s why sophomore attackman Justin Ward didn’t sound too distraught over the team’s first blemish.
“At the beginning of the year, we kind of talk about the things we want to do in terms of objectives for the season, and being 13-0 was never one of our goals,” the Glen Burnie native and Old Mill graduate said. “Obviously, this is Johns Hopkins, and we were 12-0, and we wanted to prove to the nation that we’re as good as we think we are. That’s a team we think we should beat. At the same time, it’s about getting healthy for this game on Wednesday. It’s about facing Denver again in Denver, in their environment, and trying to get another W to put us in a better situation for the [NCAA] tournament.”
The sellout crowd of 6,000 made the atmosphere at Ridley feel like a NCAA Tournament contest, but it was the Blue Jays who capitalized on the emotions and sprinted to a 5-0 advantage just 2 minutes, 3 seconds into the second quarter.
Coach Charley Toomey said the Greyhounds – who were wound up from playing on Senior Day – must do a better job of matching an opponent’s intensity.
“I thought it took us a little while to get over our emotions of a big game, the environment of a big game,” he said. “This is the type of environment you need to see in May and handle.”
Like Ward, junior attackman Mike Sawyer chose to take a positive approach to the loss.
“I think it means we now know how to handle a close game,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve really had a close game like this where we’ve been down the whole game. We had Fairfield [when Loyola trailed 6-4 in the fourth quarter before rallying for an 8-6 victory] and that was about it. Now we know how to handle a game like this.”
*Johns Hopkins (10-3) scored on its first two shots of the game, matching its entire output in a six-goal loss to Navy a week ago. In that game, the offense didn’t score its first goal until its 15th shot. And when junior midfielder Lee Coppersmith – starting for injured junior John Greeley (left knee) – gave the Blue Jays a 3-0 advantage with 3:59 left in the first quarter, the three goals matched the team’s production in the previous six quarters. Coach Dave Pietramala credited offensive coordinator Bobby Benson’s strategy of pressing on situations other than six-on-six and emphasizing playing fast, which the offense had done when Johns Hopkins opened the season with nine straight victories. “We’d come down and kind of have something and we’d pull it out,” Pietramala said. “Today, we pushed all that. Today, I give Coach Benson a lot of credit. I know he’s been taking a lot of heat and undeservedly. He’s a hell of a coach, and he did a great job preparing this group for – if you look statistically – one of the better defenses in the country and one of the better coached defenses in the country. We moved the ball more, we attacked off the second dodge more, and we tried to push some transition.”
*Johns Hopkins unleashed 40 shots against the Greyhounds, tying the second-most attempts the offense has taken this season. It was a far cry from the 30 attempts the Blue Jays had registered in the 8-2 loss to Navy and the 29 they had amassed in a 9-6 setback to Maryland. But while the Blue Jays did a better job of pressuring Loyola’s defense and sophomore goalkeeper Jack Runkel (a game-high 14 saves), Pietramala said the shooters now have to convert their opportunities. “I feel fortunate that we overcame what we feel like is still not great shooting,” he said. “We’re 10-of-40. That’s 25 percent. We need to be at 30, 33 percent. Twenty-five percent is not going to cut it. That’s a very good lacrosse team we played. We got caught up playing their style a little bit, and I hope we proved we can play up and down. l think we made some really, really unintelligent decisions. But in the end, I think it comes back to we worked hard this week in practice. It was the first time in I-can’t-tell-you-how-many months that we’ve had one good, full week of practice. This was the first time I walked out of a week of practice feeling good about what we had accomplished.”
*When Ward capped a four-goal rally by knotting the score at 9 with 5.4 seconds left in regulation, momentum had clearly shifted to the Greyhounds. And Ward said he thought the goal would catapult the team to a win. “The crowd was behind us. That was four goals in a row to get us to 9-9. We had the run we were looking for the whole game,” he said. “The fans were phenomenal. They really picked it up at the end of that fourth quarter and going into overtime. It’s just unfortunate.”