Postscript from Denver vs. Johns Hopkins
By the numbers, Johns Hopkins, not Denver, should have advanced to the Final Four at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Saturday.
As coach Dave Pietramala correctly noted, the Blue Jays were superiors in areas like shots (36-29), ground balls (31-23) and faceoffs (16-of-27). So why did No. 3 seed Johns Hopkins fall, 14-9, to the No. 6 seed Pioneers in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, N.Y., on Saturday?
“I don’t think our team gave them the level of respect they deserved,” Pietramala said. “Why that is, I don’t know. I’ve seen us play other teams, and you come out of the locker room and you get a feel for your team. You watch your team practice, you watch your team warm up, and I just don’t think that we as a group gave them the respect that they deserved. And that’s a shame because we allowed an opportunity to slip by us.”
Asked to elaborate on that lack of respect, Pietramala began his answer by asking the reporter if he had any children.
“I can tell you from experience, kids understand certain things,” said Pietramala, the father of seven-year-old twin boys. “They understand Syracuse. They understand Virginia. They understand Carolina. They understand Maryland. Teams that have won championships. This was a new team for us. I’m telling you that when we got on the plane [after scouting Denver’s 13-10 victory over Villanova in the first round on May 15], we walked away like, ‘Wow.’ [Coach Bill Tierney] inherited a very talented team, but what I would say is, what a magnificent job they’ve done as a staff of actually making them a team. … Listen, I know my team. I know the feel of our locker room. There are no excuses. We got beat, and we should’ve prepared better. Shoot, if you want to blame anybody, blame me. I’m the head coach. That’s the way it goes. But I didn’t feel like we had that little extra something that we’ve had in some other games. I can’t attribute it to our guys not caring. They do care. If you know the things we’ve dealt with this year and the way they’ve done things, I can’t say they did not care. I just don’t think we played with the level of respect that maybe we should have, and that’s our fault.”
*Pietramala declined to sum up the season with a single or several profound statements. But while crediting the team’s senior class for reviving a program that had absorbed a 7-8 campaign last season – the school’s first sub-.500 year since 1971 – Pietramala asserted that the players exceeded the expectations of many outside the program. “No one thought we would be here,” he said. “Everybody thought we were going to stink this year. Nobody thought we would make the playoffs this year. Quite the contrary, we were pretty good. But we weren’t very good today, and Denver, I thought, was terrific.”
*Senior attackman Kyle Wharton will graduate tied for third in school history with 63 career games played and three goals in his final contest as a Blue Jay. But his voice welled with emotion when asked to voice his feelings on his career. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it justice right now,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets. I love every single one of these guys on this team. They’re like brothers to me. I don’t have any regrets. This was my favorite season. I can say that.”
*The Pioneers got an inspired performance from senior attackman Todd Baxter, who scored three goals before appearing to re-aggravate the high right ankle sprain and partially torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee that sidelined him for the team’s 13-10 victory over Villanova in the first round on Sunday. “Todd Baxter scored three goals today playing on a badly sprained ankle and a partially torn medial collateral ligament,” Tierney said, unprompted. “For that guy to be out of practice once he got hurt two weeks ago and just come out there, you talk about guts and performance, boy, he meant so much to our team today.”
*After enjoying a 7-3 advantage at halftime, Denver allowed the Blue Jays to score four of the first five goals of the third quarter to trail, 8-7, with 7:16 left. Baxter’s third goal of the game with 4:47 left gave the Pioneers a two-goal cushion, but junior short-stick defensive midfielder Henry Miketa’s second goal of the season 34 seconds later provided the spark the team needed. “It was probably the most exciting I’ve been all year when I saw Henry score that goal,” junior attackman Mark Matthews said. “I wasn’t even sure he was on the field. When he got that, he kind of picked everyone up and got us back on track.”