Lacrosse In­sider

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS -

hopes alive.

If the Blue Jays (6-4, 2-0 Big Ten) had lost, they would have been at .500 and at risk of not mak­ing it to the con­fer­ence play­offs, much less the NCAA Di­vi­sion I tour­na­ment. But the post­sea­son sce­nario ap­peared brighter af­ter Satur­day’s win.

The Blue Jays still have to host Ohio State next Sun­day fol­lowed by road games at Penn State and Mary­land. But some of the gloom around the team faded and maybe so did some of the whis­pers about head coach Dave Pi­etra­mala’s job se­cu­rity.

“First of all, this is a great win. That’s a good team,” Pi­etra­mala said of Rut­gers (6-5, 1-1), which up­set Ohio State, 14-6, last week. “Make no mis­take, we watched them play last week on the road. Ev­ery­body counted us out, but this team has a lot of guys who have a lot of fight and grit. We’re far from per­fect and we are very much a work in progress.”

Johns Hop­kins is go­ing to have to play that style for the rest of the sea­son

be­cause this isn’t an overly tal­ented bunch. The Blue Jays aren’t big phys­i­cally on at­tack, don’t have many play­mak­ers in the offensive midfield and were al­low­ing slightly more than 12 goals a game be­fore Satur­day.

They gave up that av­er­age again Satur­day, but clawed and scratched enough to over­come some of the same short­com­ings that have hurt them all sea­son. They also played a Rut­gers team that is so in­con­sis­tent on of­fense.

“It’s like a NASCAR of­fense, where some­times they are just go, go, go,” Pi­etra­mala said of Rut­gers.

Af­ter Satur­day’s win, there are quite a few things Pi­etra­mala can build on. Ju­nior at­tack­man Cole Wil­liams, who has strug­gled this sea­son in his new role as team leader, scored three goals and had two as­sists.

He teamed well with fresh­man at­tack­man Joey Epstein, who had five goals and three as­sists. Both play­ers took ad­van­tage of when Rut­gers tried to match up with them us­ing short-stick mid­dies. Epstein scored off an as­sist from Wil­liams with 9:36 left to put the Blue Jays up 14-11, and he was vir­tu­ally un­stop­pable.

“It was great to see that Cole came out of his shell. It is im­por­tant for us in mov­ing for­ward,” Pi­etra­mala said. “Cole is learn­ing a new job as a leader. He has to be the voice of rea­son out there. Last year he didn’t have to run things.”

Said Epstein: “I think we all worked to­gether to get the right matchups and we got the short sticks. We had a pretty good game to­gether, prob­a­bly the best as far as point pro­duc­tion and turnover ra­tio. But we still have to get bet­ter be­cause we have three good op­po­nents left to play and all are well-coached, top-notch teams.”

Be­tween Wil­liams and Epstein, the Blue Jays over­came another prob­lem that has plagued them. Johns Hop­kins has strug­gled with fast starts, but it jumped to a 3-0 first quar­ter lead and ex­tended it to 8-3 at the half. Blue Jays faceoff spe­cial­ist Kyle Prouty won 21 of 30 face­offs, scored off one and as­sisted on two oth­ers. Those types of ef­forts made Pi­etra­mala con­tent for the first three quar­ters.

But in the fourth, af­ter build­ing a 13-8 lead on Prouty’s goal with 13:52 re­main­ing, the Scar­let Knights stepped up and the Blue Jays stepped back. It’s been a fa­mil­iar pat­tern that cost Johns Hop­kins sev­eral times this sea­son.

Rut­gers started in­vert­ing and the Blue Jays were sloppy and late com­ing off picks. They got care­less with their ball­han­dling on the de­fen­sive end, and the Scar­let Knights scored on sev­eral quick-stick goals.

Af­ter the game, Pi­etra­mala was happy with the vic­tory but vis­i­bly dis­turbed his team had to strug­gle at the end in a game the Blue Jays con­trolled for three pe­ri­ods.

“We have to show greater ma­tu­rity in the fourth quar­ter. It has been a prob­lem for us the last two weeks,” he said. “We found ways to win, found goals we needed to get and we got them. Quite frankly we got one or two stops that we needed to make.

“We showed the grit that we didn’t have early in the sea­son when I thought we didn’t fight like a Hop­kins team should fight. To­day we came out fast and there have been times we haven’t done a good job with that. So we can build on that and the great de­fense we played in the sec­ond quar­ter.”

But those things will only take a team so far. It all comes down to con­sis­tency. The Blue Jays showed some Satur­day, but not enough to get where they want to be in late May.

At Johns Hop­kins, the lacrosse team is about win­ning na­tional cham­pi­onships, and the Blue Jays haven’t won one since 2007. That makes a lot of peo­ple ner­vous on the Home­wood cam­pus.

They ex­pect to see bet­ter days on the field than what they’ve seen so far in 2019. They got one Satur­day. So now, there is peace.

At least for one week.

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