- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Fifteen near-perfect minutes gave Navy a victory over its archrival it will relish for a long time.

Bolstered by a dominant third quarter, the seventh-ranked Midshipmen upended No. 5 Army 12-9 yesterday before 12,117 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Navy’s eighth straight victory in the series.

Sophomore Billy Looney scored three goals for the Mids (9-2, 5-1), who clinched a share of the Patriot League regular-season title and all but assured themselves of playing host to the April 29-May 1 conference tournament.

Jim Wagner had a game-high four goals for the Black Knights (9-2, 4-1), whose nine-game winning streak and outright Patriot League title hopes ended.

The Mids’ shooting has been sporadic throughout the season, but it wasn’t a problem in the third quarter. Navy held a 6-5 lead at the break but scored on four of its first five shots in the second half to boost the lead to 10-5. Meanwhile, Chris Pieczonka won faceoffs after each of the goals to permit the Mids to dominate possession.

“That might have been the best quarter we played all year besides the first quarter against North Carolina [in a 9-6 victory March 5],” Navy coach Richie Meade said.

Just two weeks after an embarrassing 11-6 loss to Georgetown in which the Mids seemed disengaged, Navy has put together back-to-back victories over top-10 teams and regained the spark that helped send it to the national title game last spring.

“Two weeks ago, I challenged them and it wasn’t pretty what I said to them,” Meade said. “They responded and I’m happy they’re representing the Navy and the Marine Corps with the way they’re playing. That’s the most important thing.”

With a shot at top-ranked Johns Hopkins looming Saturday at Homewood Field, the Mids are re-emerging as one the nation’s top teams at the perfect time.

“Before, it was kind of like going through the motions. Guys didn’t want to be here, it was cold out and guys were making excuses,” senior defenseman Mitch Hendler said. “Now guys can’t wait to get to practice, everyone’s studying, everyone’s watching film at night. It felt like it did last year, and that’s probably the biggest thing. It feels like the rhythm is back. … The emotion is there, the intensity is there, the focus is there.”

Navy did a respectable job of containing stars Wagner and John Walker (two goals, four assists), who wasn’t able to become a factor in transition thanks to Hendler’s hounding. Meanwhile, the rest of the Black Knights’ offense was limited to three goals and an assist.

More importantly, Navy enjoyed its crispest passing day all year, botched only two clears and controlled the middle third of the field despite a deceptively small 39-33 groundball edge.

The Mids also effectively killed the clock in the fourth quarter after the Black Knights closed within 11-8. Looney scored with 9:16 remaining to restore a four-goal lead, and the Mids ripped off a few long possessions to deny Army the chance to come back.

“We couldn’t get within two,” Army coach Jack Emmer said. “If you get within two, maybe you create a little tightness on their part. But to their credit, they kept going to the goal and kept that three-goal advantage.”

The Mids all but locked up the top seed and home field in the Patriot League tournament. If Army defeats Holy Cross (3-9, 1-4) on Tuesday, the Mids would get the top seed. An Army loss coupled with a Bucknell victory over Colgate on Saturday would hand the regular-season title to Bucknell (7-3, 4-1).

The league tournament could produce a rematch, one that would give Army another chance to upend the Mids for the first time since 1997.

“I was kind of worried before the game because you keep winning, you keep winning and you [wonder] when [a loss is] going to happen,” Hendler said. “Thankfully, it wasn’t today, and hopefully it’s never for the rest of these guys. It’s a great feeling going out and beating Army four times in four years, but I’m pretty confident we’ll get to see them again.”

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