While pundits and prognosticators may assert that No. 9 Johns Hopkins' 11-6 victory over No. 5 Maryland on Saturday at Homewood Field in Baltimore furthered solidified the Blue Jays' prospects of grabbing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, coach Dave Pietramala made it clear that he had no such desire to entertain the validity of that scenario.
"I don't care about the big picture," he said. "I've told you every week that what I care about is right in front of us, and what was right in front of us was Maryland and now we've turned around and what's right in front of us is Mount St. Mary's [on Monday]. If we take care of our business, then we don't have to worry about the big picture."
Pietramala is right. As long as the Blue Jays (7-3) dispose of teams like the Mountaineers, Navy and Villanova before a regular-season finale against No. 1 Loyola, they will likely have done enough to take any guesswork off of the plate of the NCAA selection committee. But even Pietramala conceded that Saturday's outcome was a significant one for a Johns Hopkins program that can't seem to distance itself from the memory of last spring's absence from the NCAA tournament, which snapped a string of 41 straight appearances.
"Today was a playoff win though, I'll tell you that," he said. "That was a playoff win for us. What will happen from here will depend on what we do on Monday. That's the most important game of the year because you take a lot of hard work that you put forth and then to take a step backward would be very detrimental. So the focus is just going to be on Monday. We'll hopefully do our job against a Mount St. Mary's team that will probably think that this is the perfect trap game, which it is. … We've shown we can handle failure. Now we have to show that we can handle success, and that's another big step. We're still growing. We've still got a lot of growing to do, but we took a big step today."
Circling back to "Three Things to Watch" …
1) Johns Hopkins shone on defense. The Terps (9-2) tied a season worst with 17 turnovers against the Blue Jays, and many of those gaffes occurred when Maryland had the ball on offense. Freshman attackman Connor Cannizzaro turned the ball over three times, and senior attackman Rustin Bryant (Hereford) and freshman midfielder Colin Heacock committed two giveaways each. Coach John Tillman said the offense at times played rushed against a Johns Hopkins defense that slid and rotated quickly whenever the Terps tried to make something happen. Pietramala was pleased that the unit remained disciplined against Maryland's deliberate nature.
"Defensively, we supported when we needed to support," he said. "We thought we knew how they would try to attack us. They're very methodical, they take their time, and the one thing we talked about was finishing possessions. We couldn't just start possessions, but we had to finish them because they're so good at grinding you down and grinding you down."
2) Back-to-back penalties haunted Maryland. The Terps trailed by just one goal after junior midfielder Joe LoCascio converted a pass from senior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk on an extra-man opportunity with 9 minutes, 48 seconds left in the second quarter. But the Blue Jays took advantage of back-to-back penalties by Maryland within a 50-second span later in the period to turn a 2-1 lead into a 4-1 cushion. Johns Hopkins scored just twice on four man-up chances, which was slightly lower than its 55.2 success rate (16-of-29) entering the game. But Maryland coach John Tillman said the Blue Jays' two conversions in the second quarter proved to be significant.
"We had two penalties and they had zero and all of a sudden, they get two," Tillman said. "It seemed like they were man-up for a good amount. We almost killed one. I thought the guys did a great job. We got really close to killing it. They're a really good extra-man team, and then they found a little bit of rhythm and when you get the ball back that many times, you're going to get into a rhythm. And they had some really good shots."
3) Johns Hopkins impacted Maryland's clearing game. The Terps entered the contest ranked first in Division I in clearing percentage at 93.7 percent (149-of-159). That may not change after this weekend, but the Blue Jays forced Maryland to misfire on three clearing attempts, which tied a season worst for the Terps when they cleared just 9-of-12 times in a 10-6 win against Duke on March 1. That number may not mean much, but that's three Maryland chances on offense that evaporated before the ball could get into the offensive zone.