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While Sunday might be viewed by the Michigan men’s lacrosse program as a watershed moment, Johns Hopkins might need a cold shower to revive its flailing postseason hopes.
The host Blue Jays, winners of nine NCAA Division I championships, were outscored 10-5 over the final 42 minutes and lost, 13-10, to the Wolverines for the first time in eight meetings before an announced 215 at Homewood Field in Baltimore.
Michigan improved to 2-5 overall and in the Big Ten, collected only its second road victory against a league opponent in 16 attempts and upped its conference record to 5-27 since varsity lacrosse was sponsored by the Big Ten in 2015. So coach Kevin Conry could hardly be blamed for his exuberance stemming from the team’s performance.
“Anytime you beat Johns Hopkins University, it’s impressive,” said Conry, a 2004 Hopkins graduate who said he paid tribute to a statue of Blue Jays lacrosse patriarch Bob Scott before the game and intended to return to the statue later. “I think the history and tradition here is well known. We’re 10 years old as a varsity program. We’re still building, we’re still growing, but when you get a win over Johns Hopkins, you feel pretty good about it, and it’s special.”
On the flip side, coach Peter Milliman tried his best to find slivers of optimism as the Blue Jays (2-5 overall and in Big Ten) continued a three-game slide.
“I think we’re still fighting to have a winning mentality,” he said. “I think we’re doing enough things in games to keep us competitive, but I think all in all, it’s not as well-rounded as it needs to be. We’re really fighting ourselves on the offensive end of the field. For us to turn around and end up winning faceoffs and find enough ground balls was a plus, but it’s disappointing we didn’t turn that into enough opportunities to score.”
The outlook wasn’t as dire early in the game when Johns Hopkins took leads of two goals on three separate occasions with the last occurring with 12:21 left in the second quarter after freshman midfielder Brendan Grimes (Boys’ Latin) took a pass from junior midfielder Garrett Degnon and rifled home a shot from the right point for an extra-man tally and a 5-3 lead.
But the Wolverines responded by scoring six unanswered goals over a span of 16:37 — a run capped by sophomore attackman Josh Zawada that gave his team a 9-5 advantage with 9:23 left in the third quarter.
Despite a scoreless drought of 18:49, the Blue Jays battled back, trimming the deficit to a single goal after sophomore midfielder Jacob Angelus began a dodge from the right wing, swam past sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder Michael Cosgrove and curled back towards the middle to lace a shot over the right shoulder of junior goalkeeper John Kiracofe to make the score 11-10 with 4:42 remaining in the game.
But Michigan regained some breathing room thanks to a long-distance goal from freshman midfielder Grant McCurry with 3:44 left and then shut the door when Zawada split two defenders and scored into a net vacated by backup and senior goalkeeper Ryan Darby as Johns Hopkins tried to create a turnover with 25.3 seconds remaining.
Zawada and sophomore midfielder Jake Bonomi each scored three goals for the Wolverines, who benefited from a superb effort by Kiracofe. He finished just one save shy of his career high of 17, and there was no sequence that better highlighted his outing than back-to-back-to-back stops against senior attackman Connor DeSimone, junior midfielder Joey Epstein and senior midfielder Brett Baskin in a nine-second stretch in the third quarter.
“We really executed,” Kiracofe said, downplaying any personal accolades. “A huge thing for us is we just listened to our coaches because they know what’s best for us. So I think we did a really good job translating it from practice.”
Conry was not as bashful singing his goalkeeper’s praises.
“John has really come on the last few weeks when we needed him to,” he said. “I think early on, we had a really young defense, and we were kind of hanging them out to dry, and we kind of got a little rattled. He’s been really focusing on his patience and his poise, and he has been coming through. On that series right there, that’s kind of something we just expect from John. We see that in practice on a daily basis at times.”
DeSimone paced the Blue Jays with four goals and two assists, Angelus had two goals and one assist and Epstein finished with three assists while coming off the sideline as a midfielder. The 2019 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, who entered the game leading the offense in goals with 15, did not start at attack for the first time this season and was replaced by senior Luke Shilling (one goal and one assist). Milliman said he desires more consistency from Epstein.
“He just needs to play a little better,” Milliman said. “I don’t think he’s been very consistent lately, and I don’t think he’s been helping us enough. I think he’s a very good player who — when he’s playing well — is great. When he’s not, it’s really tough to struggle with him.
“I believe in him, and I think he’s going to get better, and today, I thought we had a great response from him. Not starting him gave him an opportunity to come out of the box a couple times and gave him an opportunity to watch the game and kind of see things develop and then get in there and value those possessions a little bit better. When we put Luke Shilling in, he had a couple points early and he seemed to be filling that role well.”
At 2-5 in the Big Ten, Johns Hopkins is tied with Michigan and Penn State in the race to host the second of two conference tournament quarterfinals May 1. Capturing the tournament championship might be the only way to get into the postseason for the program, which is in danger of missing two consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time in school history.
But that was the least of Milliman’s concerns when asked how Sunday’s setback colored the big picture.
“It’s a loss in-conference,” he said. “It’s probably going to push us down in the standings and make it harder for playoff time. But I care more about playing better on the field than I do about where we stand in the conference right now.”
JOHNS HOPKINS@NO. 16 OHIO STATE
Saturday, 11 a.m.