By his own admission, Johns Hopkins goalkeeper Brian Carcaterra has not performed up to his standards during much of this, his final season.
But the Carcaterra of old, the two-time All-America stopper, showed up yesterday in the Blue Jays' biggest game of the spring. And after Carcaterra recorded a season-high 25 saves to lead No. 6 Hopkins to a 16-12 victory over No. 3 Loyola before 6,142 at Curley Field, the future looked bright for the Blue Jays.
Hopkins won its seventh consecutive game, handed Loyola its first loss at home since the second game of the 1998 season, and most likely earned a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament while denying the Greyhounds a week off in the postseason. Virginia, Syracuse and Princeton earned the other top seeds.
The 12-team tournament begins next week. The field will be announced tonight.
The Blue Jays, who led from wire to wire, picked a good time to cool off a Loyola offense that entered yesterday's contest ranked second in the nation with a 15.2-goal average.
They also picked the right time to unleash an offense that had relied too much on too few players during much of the regular season.
Loyola (11-2) was bent on limiting such All-America forces as attackman Dan Denihan and midfielder A.J. Haugen, which the Greyhounds did. Denihan did not score a goal, while Haugen had two early goals before being stopped.
But the Greyhounds failed to account for crease attackman Bobby Benson and second-line midfielder Conor Denihan. Benson scored a career-high five goals, while Denihan - who has battled a sore knee all year and came into yesterday with just nine goals on 62 shots - hurt Loyola with four scores and an assist.
Carcaterra, a 5-foot-8 senior, helped Hopkins to a 9-7 halftime lead. He then stopped nine shots in the decisive third quarter, surrendering just one goal and putting the Greyhounds in a 14-8 hole at the start of the fourth period.
"It's been a progression from day one this year, and I felt great today. I lost a good part of the fall season due to that whole incident," said Carcaterra, alluding to rape charges that were dismissed against him last year.
"I rebuilt my game from the ground up. This is the time of the year when you need to put it together, not in March, like some guys think. I wanted to be the hottest goalie heading into May. I think I am. I don't think anybody on my team would trade me for anything in the world."
The Greyhounds, who have the nation's best extra-man attack, went 0-for-7 yesterday. Gavin Prout, the team's leading scorer, was held to just one goal, partly due to physical play from defenseman Brendan Shook. But it was Carcaterra who stuffed Prout three times on great shots in the third quarter, turning the game's momentum to Hopkins for good.
"There was no question Brian was on his game. He was the best player out there," said Loyola attackman Tim Goettelmann, who led the Greyhounds with five goals. Midfielder Mike Battista added three.
"[Carcaterra] was the difference in the game, but I thought it was more than just the goalie," Loyola coach Dave Cottle said. "We didn't do a good job of channeling our emotions and playing smart.
"We missed a lot of four-on-three [scoring] opportunities. I thought we were fortunate to be down only 9-7 at the half. If our team is made up of what I think it is, we're going to turn this into a positive."
The Blue Jays were on their game from the outset, first by exploiting the Greyhounds' defense inside with Benson, then by beating Loyola goalie Jason Born (nine saves) with outside shots from Conor Denihan.
Benson and Denihan scored two goals apiece in the game's opening 10 minutes to give Hopkins (8-3) a 4-1 lead. Benson scored two more early in the second quarter before Haugen scored his second goal from the left wing to make it 9-4 with eight minutes left in the half.
"For the past 10 games, every time I shoot I'm either missing the cage or hitting the goalie," Benson said. "I got off a few shots that didn't hit the goalie today."
Loyola seemed to make a game of it with a 3-0 run over the final 2:56 of the half. Goettelmann bulled his way inside to start the run, then finished it with three seconds left on a 12-yard shot over Carcaterra.
But Hopkins quickly re-asserted itself. Benson worked free on the crease, where Dan Denihan fed him for a goal just 38 seconds into the second half. Then, Conor Denihan beat Born at the 12:14 mark to make it 11-7.
Prout broke through with his only goal, off a loose ball in transition, cutting the margin to 11-8 with 5:07 left. But Eric Wedin won the ensuing faceoff, scored his first goal of the year, and Hopkins pulled away.
"Whether we've played our best lacrosse or not, we've won seven in a row. That's a credit to these guys for hanging in there," said Hopkins coach John Haus, whose team started the year 1-3. "The key was we had a great week of practice, and we respected our opponent."
Johns Hopkins 5 2 5 2 - 16
Loyola 2 5 1 4- 12
Goals: JH-Benson 5, C.Denihan 4, Haugen 2, Frattarola, Wedin, Doneger, Rabuano, Shaberly; L-T.Goettelmann 5, Battista 3, Fields, Horsey, Prout, Mascarela. Assists: JH-D.Denihan 2, Doneger, Frattarola, Muir, Wedin; L-Knottt, Sullivan. Saves: JH-Carcaterra 23; L-Born 12.