It wasn’t too long ago – after a 19-9 pasting of Mount St. Mary’s on March 5, actually – when Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala took the unusual approach of announcing a goalie competition between senior Pierce Bassett and redshirt sophomore Eric Schneider.
Bassett eventually held onto his status as the team’s primary starter and has recorded double-digit saves in each of his past three contests – including a season-high 16 in the No. 12 Blue Jays’ 15-8 demolition of No. 13 Virginia at the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday.
Asked to revisit the decision to open a competition between Bassett and Schneider, Pietramala didn’t sound as if he had any regrets about putting the onus on the goalkeepers.
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“I made an educated decision, and that was put a little pressure on them and to tell them, ‘OK, you decide who’s the goalie, not me. You do the job,’” he said. “I felt like our goaltender didn’t play well today. I thought he played terrific today, and I thought he had command of the defense. I thought he knew the game plan, I thought he had a good week of practice. It’s certainly nice to lay your head on a pillow at night and know what you’re going to get. Sometimes all it takes is a game like this. [The Cavaliers] are pretty good shooters – [sophomore midfielder Ryan] Tucker and [junior midfielder] Rob Emery and we all know [junior attackman Mark] Cockerton can shoot the ball very well. So for our goalie to have this kind of game in what I think a lot of people would deem a pressure game, I think it says a lot for him as a senior, and I hope he’ll take exactly what he should take out of it, which is confidence in his defense, confidence in what we can do if we practice well and – equally as important – confidence in who he is and what he is and how we feel about him.”
Predictably, Bassett – who is humble almost to the point of being shy – did not talk about his play against Virginia (5-4), opting instead to discuss the significance of the victory for a 6-2 Blue Jays squad that hadn’t beaten a ranked opponent prior to Saturday.
“I think it’s just good to see the team play well,” Bassett said. “It just kind of gives you a little bit confidence back, especially after Syracuse and not playing well and not having a great week of practice. We practiced well, we came out excited, and we played really well. It’s good to have that going forward.”
Bassett made an impression with Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia, whose offense slogged its way through a drought of 31 minutes, 27 seconds against Bassett and the rest of the Johns Hopkins defense.
“I thought Bassett was good early,” Starsia said. “I thought we helped him a little bit. I thought we took some poor-angled things. I thought Ryan took a couple shots that he would have liked to have back. But Bassett was also on his game. I thought he played well.”
* The Blue Jays did not have the services of Mike Poppleton for much of Saturday’s contest. The senior, who had entered the week ranked first in Division I in faceoff percentage at 71.1 percent (96 of 135), won 4-of-6 draws against Virginia, but Pietramala said that Poppleton was shelved after suffering an unspecified injury. “Mike got dinged up, and I don’t know how it happened or exactly what happened,” Pietramala said. “All I know is our trainer said, ‘You’re not going to have Mike.’ So OK, we put in [sophomore] Drew Kennedy and then in the fourth quarter, we actually used a freshman, Craig Madarasz. And the nice thing is [assistant coach] Dave Allan has done such a good job with those guys. I know the fourth quarter was not reflective of the hard work these guys put in. We were good for three quarters, and I think 1-of-7 in the fourth quarter is just unacceptable. But when you’re playing with a lead, you can tend to relax a little bit.” Kennedy won just 45 percent (9-of-20) of his draws, but he also scored a goal and collected a team-best six ground balls. Madarasz lost his only faceoff of the game. Asked about Poppleton’s status for next Saturday’s road contest at No. 10 North Carolina, Pietramala said, “I expect to have Mike Poppleton next week.”
* After committing 17 turnovers in the 13-8 loss to No. 6 Syracuse on March 16, Johns Hopkins turned the ball over against the Cavaliers just 10 times – a season low. The more concerted effort to protect the ball pleased Pietramala. “We turned the ball over any way we could against Syracuse,” he said. “… We were very tight. I almost feel like we overwhelmed ourselves, and we couldn’t get out of our own way. That’s not to take away any credit from the way Syracuse played. They played very well. All week, we talked about playing loose.”
* After making four starts in place of junior Rob Guida (unspecified injury), junior Rex Sanders was bumped from the first midfield. Freshman Holden Cattoni got his first start, joining seniors John Ranagan and John Greeley, while Sanders played alongside senior Lee Coppersmith and freshman Ryan Brown. The move appeared to pay dividends as Cattoni finished with a goal and an assist. But the second midfield really stood out. Sanders scored three times, Brown registered three goals and one assist, Sanders scored three times, and Coppersmith scored once. “It wasn’t a great week for that group – not in terms of their effort – in terms of their execution,” Pietramala said of the second line. “They were sloppy. But we jumbled up the midfield lines a little bit, and we took [Sanders] away from John and John and put him with Lee and Brownie. We just felt that in different games, each one of those guys had seen a pole. So now you have some more challenging choices to make.”