- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

BALTIMORE — Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala pointedly told goalie Jesse Schwartzman at halftime his collegiate legacy hinged on the final 30 minutes of yesterday’s national title game.

It’s safe to say Schwartzman secured a lofty place in Johns Hopkins’ storied lore.

The senior made 15 saves as the third-seeded Blue Jays toppled No. 1 Duke 12-11 to collect their ninth NCAA lacrosse championship.

Jake Byrne scored four goals and Paul Rabil had a goal and five assists for Johns Hopkins (13-4), which won its second title in three years. In both title runs, Schwartzman earned most outstanding player honors.

“[Pietramala] pulled me aside and said no one remembers what you did in the past; it’s about these however many minutes,” Schwartzman said. “I just didn’t want to let him down. That last quarter, 15 minutes, felt like three hours and 15 minutes. I’m just so happy right now.”

Kevin Huntley scored the go-ahead goal off a 20-yard pass from Rabil with 3:25 remaining, and then Johns Hopkins held on. Schwartzman stopped a Zack Greer shot with less than two minutes remaining, then denied Brad Ross’ dart from the wing with eight seconds left.

Max Quinzani’s heave at the buzzer flew wide of the cage for the Blue Devils (17-3), who erased a 10-4 halftime deficit but fell short of winning a championship a year after rape accusations against three players prompted the school to suspend the program temporarily.

“We had our looks, and it just seemed like we were step slow or an inch off,” attackman Matt Danowski said. “I think it’s the story of the game for us. … We had our opportunities. It wasn’t like we weren’t getting good looks. It’s up to us make plays, and we didn’t.”

Johns Hopkins found itself in an unusual situation this weekend. The Blue Jays were overlooked by nearly everyone who converged on the team’s hometown, and players got the sense outsiders believed it was a coronation for a Duke team with a growing following in the wake of its recovery from last year.

The sentiment was only reinforced when players flipped on ESPN yesterday morning, only to hear nothing about the team that overcame a 4-4 start to make its own march to the final.

“I don’t know if they mentioned Johns Hopkins once,” Byrne said. “I took it personally, and I hope our whole team did. I think it was a motivating factor. They went through a whole bunch of stuff, and I think it’s amazing how they could come back from that. But I think this game was about lacrosse more than anything else.”

That much was certain 12 seconds into the game when Byrne ripped a shot past Dan Loftus. It ignited a frenetic half for the Blue Jays, who won their first nine faceoffs and denied the ball to Danowski and Greer.

However, the Blue Devils rallied with a third-quarter flurry. Throughout the outburst, the crowd of 48,443 (a title game record) grew louder at the prospect of a storybook ending to Duke’s season.

“I think everyone likes to root against Hopkins,” midfielder Stephen Peyser said. “I don’t know if we had many fans here today — it didn’t feel that way. That’s why we come to Hopkins — because you’re the New York Yankees of the lacrosse world.”

If that’s true, then Schwartzman is Johns Hopkins’ Mariano Rivera. After enduring an occasionally suspect regular season and even getting yanked once last month, he authored a sterling postseason in keeping with his big-game reputation, halting 65.1 percent of the shots on cage in four tournament games.

“He thrives on environment and pressure situations,” Pietramala said. “It’s almost as if the bigger the game was this year, the better Jesse played, and the less the game appeared to the layman’s eye, maybe the less focused he was. Jesse is certainly a product of his focus, and he’s been very focused the last few weeks.”

So have his teammates, who capped a sometimes tumultuous season with a championship they might savor even more than their undefeated campaign two years ago.

“You look back in the middle of the season and all the conversations you had,” said Byrne, part of the first national champions with four losses since Virginia in 1972. “You’re not winning. You’re thinking, ‘Are we going to make the playoffs let alone win a championship?’ It’s just the sweetest thing.”

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