Since Monday, when they began to prepare to face Delaware in an NCAA tournament semifinal at M&T; Bank Stadium, Johns Hopkins was obsessed with countering the Blue Hens' not-so-secret weapon.
Yesterday, Hopkins sighed with relief after its mission was accomplished. Using the tag team of junior Stephen Peyser and senior Jamison Koesterer, the Blue Jays took on senior Alex Smith -- the best faceoff man in the game -- successfully in its 8-3 victory.
Hopkins won eight of 15 faceoffs against Smith. Peyser went 3-for-6. Koesterer went 5-for-9. Considering that Smith had won an amazing 73.3 percent of his faceoffs this year, and had won 69.3 percent over his career, it was a major victory for Hopkins in the game within a game.
"We got the sense that if we just get our share, it would help us. It would help our defense," Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "We're talking about the best guy at that position I've ever seen in my career, as a player and a coach."
The Blue Jays devoted extra practice time to Smith all week. Peyser and Koesterer worked on the side for extended stretches each day, figuring out how to deal with the guy who could give Delaware enough crucial possessions to spring an upset.
Smith (Boys' Latin) never got into a rhythm. Part of it was because of the low scoring early, which didn't allow for many faceoffs. Hopkins led 2-1 at halftime and was up 3-2 late in the third quarter.
All day, the Blue Jays tried countering Smith's great anticipation of the whistle with their own. Nearly half of the 15 faceoffs resulted in procedure calls, including at least four against Smith.
"[Hopkins] went on the whistle, and they went early and they did a great job on me," Smith said. "It was definitely tough to get going in the first half, when I only took five faceoffs."
It nearly went unnoticed, but a major reason Cornell was able to stay in the game yesterday was the job defensemen Mitch Belisle did on Duke attackman Matt Danowski.
Belisle, a senior All-American, didn't win every battle -- Danowski had a goal and two assists -- but considering he was covering the player generally regarded as the best in the country, it was an admirable effort.
"He's a very good athlete," Belisle said. "He has the full range of feeding and scoring. But when you have a goaltender behind you like Matty [McMonagle], it's a team defensive effort, not just one person."
Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni didn't hesitate to give a lion's share of the credit to Belisle.
"He has been absolutely fantastic all year," Tambroni said of Belisle. "Obviously I'm very biased, but I think he is, by far, the most underrated player in college lacrosse. He has been doing what he did today all year. He's just in your gloves, a position-type of defender, but he's tough as nails.
"I thought he had his hands full today. And I say this because I think Matt Danowski is the best player in the country, but if you hold him to one goal -- and it was on a backdoor look -- and two assists, I think you're doing a heck of a job."
Hopkins senior goalie Jesse Schwartzman recorded his ninth NCAA tournament win, matching the program record for victories set by Mike Federico in 1980. Schwartzman is 9-1 in tournament play. ...Before yesterday, Delaware was ranked fourth in Division I in scoring with an average of 12 goals per game. ...The Blue Jays are 14-5 in tournament play under Pietramala and 22-5 in the month of May under him. The Blue Jays also have won 45 straight games when leading at halftime and are 61-2 with a lead to start the second half under their seventh-year coach. ...Peyser had scored 11 goals on 22.2 percent shooting this season before scoring a season-high three goals on nine shots yesterday. ... Cornell allowed a season-high seven goals in the first half against Duke. ... Yesterday's attendance of 52,004 was 643 fans shy of matching the fifth-highest semifinal mark in men's basketball history, set in 2002, when Maryland won the NCAA crown.