- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

BALTIMORE — The NCAA final four isn’t usually a showcase for shoddy passing, shots yards clear of the cage and altogether tedious lacrosse.

It is, however, a stage for Johns Hopkins to prove it belongs among the sport’s royalty.

It served as both yesterday as the third-seeded Blue Jays fended off Delaware 8-3 in an unsightly opening semifinal before 52,004 at M&T; Bank Stadium.

Midfielders Michael Kimmel and Stephen Peyser both had three goals for Hopkins (12-4), whose victory in the lowest-scoring semifinal in tournament history clinched a meeting with top-seeded Duke (17-2) in tomorrow’s final.

“We just really grinded it out on offense,” Peyser said. “We didn’t have a good day out there today, but hopefully we can bring it on Monday.”

The statistical oddities streaming out of the dreck were endless. Delaware set a record for fewest goals in a final four game. Only one goal was assisted. Hopkins’ starting attack was shut out.

In some ways, though, it was a perfect reflection of a Hopkins team that has ground out victories throughout much of its eight-game winning streak.

The unseeded Blue Hens (13-6), making their first final four appearance, tried to impose their physical style from the start. But Hopkins cleverly forced most of Delaware’s primarily one-handed stars to their weak sides, limiting an offense that proved potent throughout the season.

The Blue Jays also took away Delaware’s best weapon, faceoff man Alex Smith. Hopkins drew its share of procedure calls, but even those took away any chance for the Blue Hens to generate instant offense behind a senior who entered having won 73.3 percent of his draws.

“I felt in the first quarter they were anticipating the whistle well,” said Smith, who was 7-for-15 in his final game. “If they beat it they got the ball and if they didn’t it stopped our transition. They did an excellent job against me.”

Of course, Smith didn’t receive many chances in the first half. While Smith’s teammates were busy putting the ball closer to the Inner Harbor than goalie Jesse Schwartzman (10 saves), Hopkins was busy dropping passes near the crease and winding time off the clock.

Unpleasant as it was to watch, Hopkins’ possession dominance eventually made a difference. Delaware goalie Tommy Scherr (11 saves) was splendid in the first half, but he and his defense eventually tired in the heat as the Blue Jays kept pestering them.

Hopkins maintained a one-goal edge through much of the third quarter, but reserve attackman Tom Duerr scrambled around the cage for a score with 50 seconds left. Kimmel came around the other side uncontested with eight seconds left in the quarter, and Peyser fired a 12-yard dart from the left side past Scherr early in the fourth to make it 6-2.

“When Stephen got that goal and then we got another one, it was almost like you could see an anvil fall off our back,” coach Dave Pietramala said. “All of the sudden, the sideline demeanor was different.”

It didn’t hurt that Hopkins constantly subbed in players with no discernable decline. The Blue Jays ran three midfields, two reserve attackmen and rotated in an extra defenseman, while heavily used Delaware midfielders Jordan Hall and Dan Deckelbaum spent some spare moments in front of the sideline fan to catch their breath.

“As the game went on they really wore us down,” Scherr said. “Our defense was a little bit tired on the ball and it wore us down.”

The victory did not mask a shaky offensive effort Pietramala described without prompting as “poor.” Hopkins’ starting attackmen shot a combined 0-for-10, a performance if duplicated tomorrow will lead to ruin.

Nevertheless, Hopkins’ run to the final has more than salvaged a year that looked incredibly uncertain when it was 4-4 in early April after an 11-9 loss to Duke. Now, the Blue Jays are a victory from duplicating the title march of their vastly talented predecessors in 2005.

“This group will not quit,” Pietramala said. “When they get down, they don’t lose their focus or composure. We battle back.”

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