The biggest question facing the 2018 Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse team was not how a prolific offense would fare with three of six starters returning from the previous season. The mystery revolved around the play of a defense that gave opponents too many chances, and the play of goalkeeper Brock Turnbaugh.
Turnbaugh and his defensive teammates seemingly cleared up any confusion emphatically by limiting No. 14 Towson in a 14-6 victory for the No. 13 Blue Jays before a rain-drenched 855 at Homewood Field in Baltimore on Saturday night.
The offense collected four goals and two assists from junior attackman Kyle Marr and two goals and two assists from senior midfielder Joel Tinney. But it was the play of the defense that garnered much of the spotlight.
“Obviously, it’s great to come out and get that first win,” Turnbaugh said. “I was just kind of doing my job, and I know our defense was looking really good. We were getting into the shooters’ hands and getting all over them and they were giving up the shots we want to give up. When the defense is doing that and I’m making saves, you end up giving up only six goals. I think as a unit, we did a really good job today.”
Eyes will be following Turnbaugh’s progress this spring. The Phoenix resident and Hereford graduate was the undisputed starter in 2016, but shared the job last season with Gerald Logan, a graduate student who transferred from Michigan.
Both Turnbaugh and Logan struggled in the net, and coach Dave Pietramala acknowledged that bringing in Logan might have affected Turnbaugh’s confidence. But Pietramala said Turnbaugh has blossomed into more of a commanding presence on the defensive end.
“I have great confidence in our goalie,” Pietramala said. “I thought he did a good job. I was pleased to see him take what he had done in the scrimmages from the fall to the spring and now do it in a game. … The hope was that we would move in that direction. I thought we took a positive step today, but we’ve got a long way to go. It’s not just about how many goals you give up. It’s about the quality of opportunities that you give up, and there were some that I thought our goalie took care of for us.”
Turnbaugh finished with a game-high 13 saves against the Tigers, and none might have been prettier than when he stoned redshirt junior midfielder Dylan Kinnear on the doorstep during an extra-man opportunity midway through the third quarter.
The argument could be made that Johns Hopkins was facing a Towson offense that had lost five of six starters to graduation with two transfers starting in the season opener. But Turnbaugh recognized that his performance might go a long way toward changing the perception of him.
“I think there were a lot of doubts,” he said. “Obviously, I know I have confidence in my team and my coaches, but I think outside of our program, there’s been questions. I try not to worry about that, and I know our defense has my back and our coaches have my back. So I just think as a team, we played really well.”
Towson junior midfielder Jon Mazza, the lone returning starter, led his team with one goal and one assist. He conceded that he and his teammates did not strenuously test Turnbaugh.
“I thought Hopkins as a team played great,” he said. “I don’t think we gave them too many good looks. He’s a great goalie, and they’re a great team.”
Aside from Turnbaugh, last year’s defense surrendered 11.5 goals per game, which was tied for 54th in Division I. That was an alarming number for a program that has long built its reputation on suffocating opposing offenses, and junior defenseman Patrick Foley said Saturday’s effort was a positive step.
“I think we can show like we did today, we have a lot of aggression, and we can hold teams to six goals like today,” he said. “We’re going to continue to bust our butts in practice and just make sure every day that we’re getting better and make sure that we’re a top defense at the end of the year.”
The Blue Jays still have to clash with productive offensive teams such as No. 10 Loyola Maryland (next Saturday), No. 9 North Carolina, No. 19 Princeton and No. 11 Syracuse in their next four games. Perhaps that explains why Pietramala was not about to feel content with what he saw.
“We walk away defensively knowing that we gave up a lot of the shots that we wanted to give. But we made a lot of mistakes — rollbacks,” he said. “Two of the three goals we gave up were on rollbacks, and that was a point of emphasis this week. While we got away with it today, we may be in a tighter ballgame where we don’t get away with that. So I’m not interested in sending a message to anybody else. I’m interested in us continuing to improve every single day.”