It was only an indoor lacrosse scrimmage, but the matchup was of classic proportions.
For the Philadelphia Wings, it was Paul Gait, the best offensive player in the world if his twin brother Gary isn't.
For the Baltimore Thunder, it was Dave Pietramala, MVP in the 1990 World Games and acknowledged as the best defensive player in the game.
As Gait was stretched out and had planted a foot after catching a pass during the scrimmage a few weeks ago at the Baltimore Arena, Pietramala, 6 feet 4, 208 pounds, hit him. Gait, no shrimp at 6-2, 200, was knocked cold for three minutes.
Clean hit. No complaints from the Wings.
"If it had been any other two players, a brawl would have broken out," said Thunder coach Skip Lichtfuss. "But not with those two, because everyone has so much respect for them."
Said Pietramala, noting that Gait is OK and playing again: "It was a hit a defenseman dreams about, although I was sorry right after I did it. But I'd do it again if it would save a goal. I'd have no problem if someone, Paul or anyone else, did the same to me."
Although Pietramala doesn't expect to make a habit of knocking out the game's best players, the incident exemplifies the defensive presence the former Johns Hopkins star is expected to bring to the Thunder.
When the Thunder opens its eighth Major Indoor LacrossLeague season tonight against the Detroit Turbos at the Baltimore Arena, it will be led by Pietramala, who was elected captain by the players in his first season.
"His physical ability and reputation bring the team up another level," Lichtfuss said. "He causes guys around him to play harder."
The Thunder needs all the defensive help it can get. En route ta 2-6 record last season, the team gave up a league-high 18.3 goals a game.
"We've got to bring that down to 13," Lichtfuss said. "That will dictate how successful we'll be. We have different personnel. You don't start with a Wayne Gretzky. You start with defense."
Lichtfuss is starting with Pietramala, 26, who came to Baltimore via a dispersal draft after the Pittsburgh Bulls folded.
A native of Hicksville, N.Y., on Long Island, Pietramala made himark at Johns Hopkins as a three-time first-team All-American and NCAA Division I Player of the Year in 1989. In the 1990 World Games, Pietramala outshined Canada's Gait brothers and earned the MVP award.
"It was a great matchup, their high-powered offense with Pauand Gary and our solid defense," Pietramala said. "It allowed our defense to be seen in a different light."
Pietramala is still making lacrosse his life. He has played outdoors for Mount Washington for four years, and this is his fifth year in the MILL. After assistant jobs at Gilman, Johns Hopkins and Penn, Pietramala is a full-time assistant at Loyola College, recruiting and coaching the defense.
"Lacrosse is what I know and love," Pietramala said. "I can't get enough of it."
Veteran Thunder players are glad to have him on their side. In a tournament at Syracuse a few years ago, Tim Welsh recalls that Pietramala "did everything," getting three goals and three assists while playing bone-rattling defense.
"He plays lacrosse the way it's supposed to be played," Welsh said. "He's always been a winner. He brings us a winning attitude."
"It's good," Brian Kroneberger said, "to finally have him on our team."