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.