- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2012

BALTIMORE — Johns Hopkins is college lacrosse’s constant cauldron, a place where every last detail is scoured and fans tend to measure success in championships and little else.

So it was little surprise when Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala eased into a chair Saturday after a 10-9 overtime defeat of top-ranked Loyola that snapped a two-game losing streak and seemed far more relieved than pleased.

“When you’re Johns Hopkins and you beat Virginia, everybody tells you you’re going to win the national championship,” Pietramala said. “When you’re Johns Hopkins and you lose two games, everybody tells you you’re doing everything wrong. There’s been a lot of that.”

Few know better than Pietramala, once a legendary player for the Blue Jays, later an assistant coach for three years and now 12 years into a run as head coach.

Merely a month ago, Hopkins (10-3) appeared impervious. The Blue Jays beat Virginia on the road, possessed a stout defense and looked far more athletic than most of their recent editions.

Yet in one of the weirdest developments in a bizarre season nationally, Hopkins unraveled. It struggled early and faded late in a loss to North Carolina. After routing Albany, the Blue Jays blew a three-goal lead at home in the second half of a 9-6 loss to Maryland.

Then came an anvil to suggest plenty was amiss: An 8-2 loss at Navy that showed a team unable to handle its successes or failures.

“Maryland’s beat us twice,” Pietramala said. “We lost against Maryland, and then we were hung over from it and when things didn’t go our way against Navy, it kind of reared its ugly head again.”

It wouldn’t happen again. Pietramala opted for an upbeat approach after the Navy loss, showing a loop of highlights from the Blue Jays’ early defeats of Princeton, Syracuse and Virginia to his players. The aim wasn’t to coax so much as it was to remind his team it wasn’t one extreme or another, either a sure-fire national champion or a forgettable bunch doomed to fail.

And for much of Saturday, it worked. There was a surrendered four-goal lead in the fourth quarter, adding more stress than most days that include a 5-0 lead usually carry. But as ecstatic as Hopkins was when Rob Guida’s shot dribbled in with 2.3 seconds left in overtime, it was merely part of the payoff.

“This whole week, we were kind of building each other up and working hard, and the coaches were just encouraging us and staying positive,” defenseman Tucker Durkin said. “With the win, definitely everybody’s happy right now.”

It might be the start of a balanced stretch run. Durkin and the defense did an exceptional job containing Loyola stars Eric Lusby and Mike Sawyer. Hopkins got a hat trick from Guida for the first time and two goals from midfielder Lee Coppersmith, who started in place of the injured John Greeley.

There is no true title favorite, not with the chaos of the final month. Perhaps the eventual champion will emerge from the game’s most consistent crucible, forged in part by a forgettable month that ended well Saturday.

“We’re still the same group that lost to Navy, too,” Pietramala said. “Make no mistake. It goes both ways. Hopefully, we’re somewhere in between and hopefully we’re a good solid team, which I think we are.”