Johns Hopkins junior midfielder Paul Rabil does not rank high among the nation's Division I scoring leaders, but where would the sixth-ranked Blue Jays be without the reigning first-team All-American?
Rabil has scored game-winning goals against three top 10 teams. He became the first player in school history to produce two overtime goals in the same season. Those goals beat Princeton on March 3 and Maryland on April 14.
Then, Saturday against visiting Navy, Rabil again was the difference. He scored the last two Hopkins goals as the Blue Jays (6-4) took a 10-9 victory that has them within one win of securing their 36th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament.
"Paul is a kid who wants the ball in his stick with the game on the line," Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "He responds to pressure. He's a big-moment guy."
Rabil, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound DeMatha graduate, has been responding since early in his freshman year, when he came off the bench to join the first midfield unit at Syracuse and scored four goals to spark a come-from-behind, overtime victory. But unlike in 2005, when he could sometimes hide among older, more accomplished players such as midfielder Kyle Harrison, Rabil is the marked man.
Watch opposing defenses slide toward Rabil when he is within 20 yards of the goal with the ball in his stick. Watch the double and triple teams come after him, determined to force Rabil to give up the ball. It makes sense. Few midfielders in the game combine his ability to dodge and shoot on the run with either hand.
Pietramala loves the growth he is seeing in Rabil's game, especially the way he is settling for a good pass instead of trying to make the heroic, one-on-one (or more) play. It shows. Rabil already has 10 assists this year, after having 14 and 13 in his first two seasons.
And after a slow scoring start this spring, Rabil is on a roll. Over his past six games, he has 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) and has taken over the team lead with 25. With his last goal Saturday, Rabil reached 100 career points.
The only Hopkins midfielder to reach that milestone faster was four-time first-team All-American Del Dressel 22 years ago.
Ready out of the box
When UMBC freshman attackman Cayle Ratcliffe arrived on campus, he already had been nicknamed "Tugboat" by his high school coach.
But Ratcliffe, 5-8, 230 pounds, quickly has established himself as more than just a stocky body. The kid out of Victoria, British Columbia, is a pure scorer, as the Canadian indoor box game typically produces.
Ratcliffe, who has started eight games, leads UMBC (8-4) with 28 goals and is shooting an impressive 57.1 percent.
"I know what kind of physique I have, but it doesn't stop me from having big games," Ratcliffe said. "Shooting on that little net with the big goalie [in Canada] makes the goal in the field game look huge."
It finally happened at Maryland. Freshman goalie Brian Phipps, who has played extremely well in the place of injured veterans Harry Alford and Jason Carter, got pulled at halftime Saturday, after Penn had battled the Terps to a 6-all tie at the half.
In came Alford, the senior and two-time All-American, who last month came back after offseason shoulder surgery. Alford made six second-half saves to help secure a 14-10 victory.
Has the torch been passed back to Alford for the rest of his final season? Maryland (9-4) coach Dave Cottle isn't sure. Cottle said he will let the two goalies battle it out in practice this week before deciding on a starter in Friday's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinal game against Virginia.
"Brian has been unbelievable this year. We got more out of him than we ever could have hoped for," Cottle said. "We're not making a move out of weakness. We're trying to make a move out of strength - if we make a move at all."