Pursuing a conference tournament championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA postseason has a way of exciting a team, and that could apply to the four that are in the hunt in the Big Ten Conference tournament, which opens Thursday at Homewood Field in Baltimore.
For No. 9 Johns Hopkins (8-5 overall and 3-2 in the league), that enthusiasm has been enhanced by the program's opponent in the second semifinal at 8 p.m. -- No. 17 Rutgers (10-4, 3-2)
"We're all excited," senior midfielder Holden Cattoni said Tuesday. "We lost to Rutgers in the regular season. It's a shot of redemption for us. We're excited to have a shot at Rutgers and a chance to redeem ourselves for what we feel was a poor effort on our part earlier this year."
Cattoni is referring to a 16-9 setback in Piscataway, N.J., on April 2. The Scarlet Knights took advantage of a 4-0 run in the second quarter and a 5-0 spurt spanning the third and fourth periods to collect only their fifth victory in 36 meetings with the Blue Jays.
One might argue Johns Hopkins wasn't at full strength after losing at Virginia on March 27 and walloping UMBC three days later and was playing without head coach Dave Pietramala due to a lower back infection. But Pietramala, who watched the game while lying in a hospital bed, wasn't buying it.
"Rutgers played very well," he said Wednesday morning. "They're a very good team. That night, they deserved to win, and they earned that win in every sense of the word. Do I feel good about my team's performance on that night? Absolutely, positively not. Do I believe that's indicative of our team? I certainly hope not, and I don't think any coach would. So your hope and belief is that you're going to play with better effort, you're going to execute better, and you're going to be more focused and play with great intensity."
Cattoni said the players are eager to prove that they are not the same team that played so poorly in that regular-season meeting with the Scarlet Knights.