- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2009

ANNAPOLIS — Deep down, Virginia lacrosse coach Dom Starsia wasn’t sure whether a couple of April snags exposed a frailty in his tested team.

The Cavaliers’ early-season high-wire act eventually faded, a couple of ugly losses in their stead. Yet he still saw constant effort and an understanding the best could yet come if things broke right.

It’s May, and now Virginia is producing in the manner its prodigious collection of talent would suggest.

Just ask Johns Hopkins, which received a 19-8 beatdown against Virginia in Sunday’s NCAA tournament quarterfinals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“The last two games we played well at both ends of the field and played fairly complete lacrosse games,” Starsia said. “At the same time, I would have never told you we would beat Johns Hopkins by the score of the game today. That was not something that had occurred to me.”

Nor would it have to the Blue Jays (10-5), who absorbed their largest postseason bludgeoning ever, surpassing eight-goal losses in 1976, 1977 and 1995. It also matched the worst margin of defeat in coach Dave Pietramala’s career.

Shamel Bratton scored a career-high five goals and Garrett Billings added four goals and three assists as the top-seeded Cavaliers reached their 11th final four in the last 16 seasons. They will meet fifth-seeded Cornell (12-2) in Saturday’s semifinals in Foxborough, Mass.

Freshman Steele Stanwick added two goals and five assists for Virginia (15-2), which has outscored its first two opponents 37-14.

Johns Hopkins managed a short-lived 1-0 lead, but Virginia’s ability to poke holes in the Blue Jays’ plodding defense was uncanny, and it spent the first half exposing every vulnerability imaginable.

“I think we’ve just been moving the ball really well and being patient in our offense and trying to get the good shot,” Bratton said. “We aren’t settling on offense and taking average shots we can get pretty much anytime we want. That’s the big thing we’ve been doing in the playoffs.”

It has these Cavaliers more than halfway to their 2006 tournament record of 66 goals. And it came against a member of the sport’s royalty.

Johns Hopkins yielded its most goals since a 20-11 loss to Princeton in 1994, an ignominious end to a season for a program that had reached seven final fours and won two titles this decade.

“We got outcoached, outplayed and outhustled,” Pietramala said. “We got beat in every facet of the game. … I’m just so disappointed. I’m embarrassed. I’m apologetic to our fans and our university. This isn’t Hopkins lacrosse. But that’s what happened today. We need to learn we can’t talk about things. We have to do things to be a great team.”

That, the eighth-seeded Blue Jays were not. For so many years, their defense was the bedrock of title contenders. This season it was a blatant shortcoming, and Sunday it finally manifested in an unsightly matter.

“The bottom line is we got what we deserved,” Pietramala said. “When you look at the last three weeks, we were skating by and our offense was carrying us a bit. We weren’t doing a great job defensively. The same mistakes we were battling all year we battled today.”

Perhaps the Blue Jays’ only hope when it trailed 12-4 at the break was their comeback from a six-goal deficit against Virginia earlier in the season. The Cavaliers squeaked out a 16-15 victory, but it required a fourth-quarter comeback.

Trouble was, Starsia was sure to remind his team of that March evening as well. And so things unfolded much differently this time, as stark a contrast as the Cavaliers of May and their struggling counterparts of a month earlier.

“This is the time of year people remember in our sport,” said Starsia, who became the fourth coach to reach the 300-victory plateau. “The season ended last year [early], and yet these guys talked about getting back here and doing this again.”

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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