BALTIMORE | A perfect feed to Johns Hopkins attackman Zach Palmer arrived in the early stages Saturday afternoon. It was an ideal way for the Blue Jays to begin May, and a nice prod for Palmer to build off his four-point day a week earlier.
His shot clanged off the pipe, maybe not the most stunning development for a Hopkins team grinding to collect goals in the second half of the season.
Only it wasn’t a harbinger. Palmer set a career-high with five goals as the Blue Jays blasted Army 13-6 before 5,130 at Homewood Field.
“I just figured he was going to have a tough time, but he broke out,” coach Dave Pietramala said after recalling the early miss. “He had some great feeds. I’m pleased. We have to get everybody to break out. Now’s the time where we have to have everybody playing well. We can’t have one guy or two guys or four guys.”
The time for hoping things come together is over, of course. The NCAA tournament begins next weekend. Hopkins (11-3) will be there for the 41st consecutive season, a remarkable testament to consistency Pietramala wasn’t hesitant to cite after the Blue Jays effectively clinched a first-round home game.
What they do with it remains to be seen, though Saturday’s offensive performance was encouraging for a storied program four years removed from its last final four appearance.
The Blue Jays won’t be as complete as they once envisioned, not with John Greeley’s season-ending knee injury eroding Hopkins’ depth in the midfield. But they still possess some interesting pieces, whether it’s veteran Chris Boland’s savvy on attack, sophomore Rob Guida’s missile of a shot or junior Lee Coppersmith’s impressive speed.
Coppersmith was added to the first midfield line in Greeley’s stead, and Hopkins has reached double digits in its last two games. The 10 goals at then-No. 1 Loyola was a welcome step. A nine-goal second half against Army (7-8) was another.
“The offense in general needs to pick things up a little bit, and today we did that,” Palmer said. “It wasn’t just the middies dodging. It wasn’t just the attack dodging. We had it kind of spread out.”
Palmer’s seven-point afternoon, though, was the major catalyst. It wasn’t the sort of production Hopkins received for much of the last six weeks from the junior, who was held to two points or less in five of six games. The exception was a four-point outburst against scuffling Albany.
There are no Albanys awaiting the Blue Jays the rest of this month, and Palmer’s value is unquestioned. Well, at least it shouldn’t be doubted after he dissected the Black Knights.
“When he plays well, our offense plays well … ,” defenseman Tucker Durkin said. “He’s obviously a feeder first, but he can dodge. When he’s on like he was today, it’s just a huge spark for our offense.”
Palmer’s performance isn’t everything for Hopkins. It still needs Boland, Coppersmith, Guida, John Ranagan and all the rest to show up. Pietramala’s right. This can’t be a one-man or two-man show. Not any longer. Not with the postseason upon the Blue Jays.
Yet Hopkins is at its best when Palmer is deeply involved in conducting the offense, finding lanes to slip passes and nudging into spaces near the crease to receive the ball.
Saturday was a reminder of that as the Blue Jays inched ever closer to the team they’ll need to be, an early carom off a pipe hardly a prelude for what would unfold.
“I think it’s exactly what we needed,” Palmer said.
And exactly what they need to do for the next three weeks as well.
—- Patrick Stevens