A week's worth of soul-searching by Johns Hopkins' defense did the Blue Jays plenty of good last night.
Embarrassed after surrendering 15 goals and blowing a six-goal lead to Syracuse last week, the fourth-ranked Blue Jays clamped down on equally dangerous Virginia, holding the top-ranked Cavaliers scoreless in the first half before holding on for an 8-7 victory before 7,241 at Homewood Field.
The Blue Jays, who led 5-0 at halftime, survived a furious Cavaliers rally and were finally able to exhale when Matt Ward's desperation shot from 15 yards as time expired hit the outside of the net.
Seeing the net move, several Cavaliers celebrated on the sideline, but after a short pause, it was the Blue Jays who rushed the field and had the real reason to celebrate.
"I don't know about that last shot," said a relieved goalie Rob Scherr, who tied a career high with 18 saves, including 12 in the first half. "I thought I had that inside post covered. We're very fortunate I didn't have to make a save on that last one."
The victory over the top-ranked Cavaliers (5-1), coupled with losses yesterday by No. 2 Maryland and No. 3 Syracuse, makes the Blue Jays (4-1) the likely No. 1 when The Sun/Channel 2 poll is released this week.
Sophomore Kyle Barrie had two goals for Hopkins, but the story was clearly the Blue Jays' defensive effort. Virginia came into the game averaging just under 14 goals a game, but the Blue Jays, still smarting from last week's meltdown at the Carrier Dome, made life very difficult for the Cavaliers.
"Needless to say, it was a long week in practice for our defense," said Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala, whose team broke a four-game losing streak to the Cavaliers. "They were constantly reminded of letting up 10 goals in one half. I was very proud with our goalie and our defense tonight, and our offense helped a lot, too."
The Cavaliers were held in check by defenders Chris Watson, Michael Peyster and Tom Garvey and an off-and-on zone defense, which forced the Cavaliers into a handful of ill-advised long shots, which Scherr gobbled up.
"The defense was forcing them to shoot from 10, 11 and even 12 yards out," said Scherr, a McDonogh alum. "I was seeing them in all the way. My defense kept us together today."
Said Virginia coach Dom Starsia: "There was a sense that maybe we weren't going to get one by this kid. He was just terrific in the cage."
Meanwhile, Hopkins' offense got going early. Senior Bobby Benson pushed home a rebound of Joe McDermott's shot 3:01 into the game to open the scoring.
It was 2-0 a minute later when Barrie converted Conor Ford's nifty feed past Cavaliers goalie Tillman Johnson (10 saves).
Scherr then made a beautiful reaction save on Matt Poskay at the doorstep and the Blue Jays caught a nice break to close the quarter.
With the time winding down, freshman midfielder Kyle Dowd fired a shot from about 30 yards that skipped past Johnson to make it 5-0 after Barrie's second goal and one by Ford.
Virginia finally got on the scoreboard with Ward's goal at 11:19 of the third quarter, and the comeback progressed from there with two goals each from Joe Yevoli and John Christmas in the third quarter.
Chris Rotelli made the score 8-7 with just 1:28 to play in the game and Virginia's Jack de Villiers won the ensuing faceoff, but Rotelli's pass sailed out of bounds with 20 seconds left.
The Cavaliers regained possession, but Ward just missed sending the game into overtime.
"We just made too many mistakes to win this game in the end," Starsia said.
Pietramala saw it differently. "This was a good win and now we have two very good wins," he said, referring to his team's season-opening victory over Princeton. "That's certainly going to help us when the NCAA tournament selection committee meets."
Virginia 0 0 5 2 -- 7
Johns Hopkins 5 0 2 1 -- 8
Goals: V--Yevoli 2, Christmas 2, Rotelli 2, Ward; JH--Barrie 2, B. Benson, Harrison, Ford, Boland, McDermott, Dowd. Assists: V--Yevoli 2, Ward; JH--Ford, Harrison, Boland, G. Peyser. Saves: V--Johnson 10; JH--Scherr 18.