- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

BALTIMORE — Tillman Johnson’s season-long stretch of dominance culminated yesterday with a national championship.

The Virginia goalie made 13 saves, including three in a critical 10-second sequence in the fourth quarter, as the second-seeded Cavaliers upended top-seeded Johns Hopkins 9-7 to win their second national lacrosse title in five years before 37,944 at M&T; Bank Stadium.

Johnson, the Most Outstanding Player of the final four, finished his four-game NCAA tournament run with a .735 save percentage.

“It’s been a dream all my life to be the MVP of a championship game,” said Johnson, the first goalie to be named the MOP since Princeton’s Corey Popham in 1998. “I never imagined and never really thought this would happen. It really hasn’t sunk in yet but it’s a great feeling.”

A.J. Shannon scored four goals for the Cavaliers (15-2), who have three national titles. The first came in 1972.

The Blue Jays (14-2), who had their 11-game winning streak snapped, came up short in their bid for a first national title since 1987.

Johnson was brilliant from the start. Less than 10 minutes into the game, Hopkins attackman Kyle Barrie had an open shot on a wraparound attempt. After faking twice, he shot to Johnson’s left, only to have the Virginia goalie come up with the save.

“It’s always nice to get a first save, especially a big one like that,” Johnson said. “It really gives you a lot of confidence. It was definitely an important save for me for the rest of the game.”

The Annapolis native’s play in the fourth quarter was even more impressive. With 13 minutes left, Johnson handled Barrie’s eight-yard shot with ease. Barrie then intercepted Johnson’s outlet pass and quickly zipped it to midfielder Kevin Boland on the crease.

Johnson stuffed Boland’s attempt from point blank range, then rebuffed attackman Bobby Benson’s shot off the rebound.

“There were different points in the game when I think Hopkins may have been a little bit more poised and Tillman came up with a save when we had to have it so we could recapture the momentum going back the other way,” said Virginia coach Dom Starsia, who won the second national title in his 11 years in Charlottesville.

Virginia raced to a 5-0 lead, relying on its experienced midfielders to decipher the Hopkins defense. Matched against a short stick, senior Chris Rotelli scored on a 10-yard shot 1:14 into the game.

Shannon scored two straight before senior Billy Glading beat Hopkins goalie Rob Scherr (12 saves) up high with two seconds left in the quarter.

“You never want to give up a goal at the end of a quarter,” Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “We talk a lot about inside two minutes, you never want to give up a goal but you want to get one. Today, we were on the wrong side of that.”

Shannon added another goal early in the second period before the Blue Jays shifted to a zone despite a five-goal deficit. Hopkins used the same tactic when it defeated the Cavaliers 8-7 on March 22.

“I was kind of shocked at first, but we’re always prepared and we were practicing for that one,” Shannon said. “They had success with a zone against us earlier in the year. I think [Pietramala] just wanted to get back there and make us make some bad passes and take bad angle shots.”

The slowdown worked for Hopkins. The Cavaliers briefly fell out of sync, allowing the Blue Jays to reel off a 3-0 run that included goals by Benson and Corey Harned nine seconds apart. Virginia quickly returned to an aggressive offensive approach and bumped its lead to 6-3 when freshman Matt Ward scored from the edge of the crease.

Hopkins pulled within 6-5 in the third quarter, but Virginia soon answered. Attackman John Christmas scored on an extra-man chance and Shannon added a goal off a Rotelli feed with five seconds left in the quarter. Minutes later, Johnson came through with his three-save flurry.

The Blue Jays tried to make a late rally, closing to 8-6 with 2:52 left, but Christmas scored less than a minute later to clinch the win.

All along, Virginia’s Jack deVilliers bested the Blue Jays’ three-man faceoff rotation, winning 12 of 19 draws to keep possession away from the potent Hopkins offense.

“Their faceoff guy did a terrific job and their goalie did a terrific job and those are two huge parts of this game,” Pietramala said. “If you can make some saves and you can win faceoffs, you can win a lot of lacrosse games. They won the most important one of the year.”

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