BALTIMORE – Equipment was strewn across Homewood Field in the moments after Johns Hopkins closed out a 12-11 victory over No. 2 Virginia on Saturday, a generally unseen occurrence for the bluest of college lacrosse’s bluebloods.
Bedlam over a late March victory? Pure joy about simply knocking off a national title contender? A sense of significance over scoring a late goal to secure a home-field win?
Check, check and check. And for good reason.
A signature victory meant that much to the No. 12 Blue Jays (7-2).
“This was kind of a day for a young team to step up,” Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “I watched them grow up in front of our eyes.”
Like so many others in the sport in recent years, Hopkins endured a reality check. It wasn’t a losing regular season and the accompanying May without an NCAA tournament berth, the sort of thing Syracuse and Princeton and Virginia and Duke and North Carolina and countless others endured in the last decade.
It wasn’t four years without a trip to Memorial Day, like the holding pattern Maryland finds itself in.
For Hopkins, though, the last two years constituted a drought.
The 2009 season was littered with close victories and closed with a humbling quarterfinal loss to Virginia. Last spring, the Blue Jays squeaked into the tournament and were pulverized at Duke; the 7-8 mark was the first sub-.500 record for the program since 1971.
But few things illustrated Hopkins’ problems like the 10-game skid against top-five teams it brought into Saturday, a streak dating back to the 2008 national title game. The Blue Jays dropped six straight in their series with Virginia.
On the surface, it would have been easy to understand yet another setback. Virginia’s veteran-laden roster is expected to reach a fourth straight final four. The Cavaliers posed substantial headaches for an inexperienced defense. And quite simply, Virginia has Hopkins’ number, winning 12 of the previous 15 meetings.
Except Hopkins would have none of it. The Blue Jays led 4-0 after a quarter, 7-3 at the break and 9-5 entering the final two minutes of the third quarter.
Oh, Virginia made its run, tying it with 33 seconds left in the third and twice taking the lead in the fourth quarter. Lee Coppersmith, a sophomore playing extensively only because John Greeley was injured in the first half, tied it once. Freshman midfielder Rob Guida brought Hopkins even again. And Guida then fed Chris Boland for the game-winner with 1:39 left.
Then came the closing stand: Three sophomores (including goalie Pierce Bassett) and a freshman as the critical pieces on a defense that denied Virginia a tying goal.
And so Hopkins left with the victory it couldn’t snag a week earlier in a 5-4 overtime loss at Syracuse.
“You hear it all. ‘How come you haven’t beaten Virginia? What’s wrong?’” Pietramala said. “I guess you could ask them why they haven’t beaten Duke. It happens. … You don’t know why. I don’t know why. You go out and play the game. I think for us it was important on a number of fronts because it sets a new trend. We have lost. Fact is fact. We have lost to them a number of times. Our freshmen know nothing but winning this game. Our sophomores have won and lost this game, so we’re 50-50. You hope to set a new trend for the future as guys come in.”
Make no mistake: Pietramala went all in with his younger players, out of necessity as much as choice. He knows, like any coach would, there will be miscues. But every encouraging development has a chance to last even longer than usual.
So after the victory it was a Pietramala not often seen as the last two seasons wound along. He teasingly admonished Bassett for mentioning the name of Hopkins’ defensive play selection in the end game. He smirked when Boland started to answer a question about what he saw on a shot. He nodded approvingly as Coppersmith handled what was probably the first postgame interview of his college career.
Yes, Pietramala was savoring things. Winning will do that. So will working with an enjoyable group. Blend the two together and add the sense things will get better – perhaps not in linear fashion, but better nonetheless – and suddenly Hopkins is showing hints of looking like, well, Hopkins.
“They had to grow up real fast early in the season,” Boland said. “Starting off in the fall, we knew we had a young team coming into this year. It’s good these guys have confidence and we’ll take a big win like this, but it’s back to another tough game and another good week of practice.”
A week Hopkins no doubt feels far better about than nearly any it experienced in the last two seasons.
“It’s a win at the end of the year when they sit down to do playoff stuff, this is a win you can point to,” Pietramala said. “We had hoped to get it last week and we believed we could. We went up to the Dome believing we were going to win, and we came into this game believing we were going to win. We knew we had to play really, really well.”
And for the most part, the Blue Jays did. In the process, Hopkins served a significant notice to the rest of the country: If it isn’t back quite yet, it’s certainly on its way – and it might be leaving some equipment lying on a field after an even bigger game sooner than anyone expected.