Leclaire, Jasinski Ignite Ohio State Offense


Jack Jasinski broke out in Ohio State's win over Johns Hopkins during the regular season. The teams face each other again tonight in the Big Ten semifinals.

Ohio State effectively served notice in mid-March that the Buckeyes were a force to be reckoned with.

On Wednesday, March 15, a day after its original date at Towson had been postponed due to bad weather, Ohio State showed its defensive muscle against one of the game’s defensive stalwarts — in near-empty Johnny Unitas Stadium after a noon start, no less — by managing a 6-3 victory to beat its first ranked opponent.

Four days later back in Columbus came the first bomb drop of another regular season that has featured its share of them. The Buckeyes rode 16-for-35 shooting while holding Denver to an astounding two goals over the first three periods of a 16-7 rout over the Pioneers.

Ohio State immediately stumbled after extending its historic starting record to 9-0. First, they dropped a 12-7 decision in South Bend to Notre Dame, their second top five opponent in successive weeks. Then came the stinker in the Big Ten opener — a 9-4 defeat against upstart and then top-ranked Penn State on April 2.

Whoever might have been tempted to dismiss Ohio State as a one-week wonder isn’t smirking anymore. Not after the Buckeyes answered with a three-game winning streak that showed the kind of style and substance and grit that could push another first-time visitor into the NCAA championships weekend.

Before this season, Ohio State was a combined 2-13 all-time against Maryland (1-6) and Johns Hopkins (1-7) and had never beaten two of the sport’s bluebloods in the same year. That changed this last month.

Led by senior faceoff star Jake Withers, redshirt senior goalie Tom Carey and newly-installed second line sophomore midfielder Jack Jasinski — who torched the Blue Jays for four goals and three assists after moving from the fourth attackman slot — the Buckeyes ran through Hopkins with seven second-half scores and silenced the Blue Jays’ offense with a 13-9 win on April 9.

On April 22, a week after a rout at Michigan, Ohio State spotted visiting Maryland an early 7-2 lead in a turnover-prone first half in which the Buckeyes largely wasted a 10-for-13 show by Withers.

Again, the Buckeyes answered, first by trimming the Maryland lead to 7-4 at halftime. The Buckeyes then got a second-half hat trick from senior attackman Eric Fannell — who had five scores on the day — and took two second-half leads over the Terrapins, who showed their pedigree by forcing overtime. Senior midfielder Johnny Pearson ended the suspense with his second goal to lift Ohio State to an 11-10 victory.

“The likelihood that a team can come back from a 7-2 deficit against a team like Maryland, which [usually] protects a lead with the best of them, is not good,” said Nick Myers, the Buckeyes’ ninth-year coach. “But we found a way to steal that game.

“It’s just another situation we’ve been put it in this year,” he added. “We survived a tough, low-scoring game at Towson. We had everything go right against Denver. We were humbled by putting up a 4 spot against Penn State. We turned the game our way in the second half against Hopkins. We had our ‘C’ game early against Maryland and we settled down and showed a lot of poise.”

Coming off of an overtime loss at Rutgers — a team that may have secured an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament with that win — the Buckeyes (12-3, 3-2) are the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which they are hosting in Columbus. They play No. 3 seed Johns Hopkins tonight at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

Ohio State, the conference tournament’s predetermined host, is 8-0 at home. No. 1 seed Maryland plays No. 4 seed Penn State at 5 p.m. in the other semifinal.

It remains to be seen how the Buckeyes’ journey plays out in May. What is clear is that this senior-laden squad, sprinkled with impactful Canadians such as Withers (68.3 percent, third in Division I), Fannell, Pearson and Tre Leclaire — who leads the team with 32 goals on 58.1-percent shooting — has the skills, balance and command of tempo to make a lot of noise down the stretch.

The Buckeyes have thrived after tweaking their lineup by moving Leclaire from midfield to attack and shifting Jasinski to midfield. Ohio State’s renewed emphasis on the picking game has re-energized the offense.

“We weren’t being efficient enough in the box. We weren’t getting the ball enough to Eric and Tre,” Myers said. “We’re back in a pretty good place, and this is the most balanced team I’ve had here.”

Improved defense, Spencer-led offense make Loyola dangerous

Loyola head coach Charley Toomey, a former All-American goalie with the Greyhounds and a 1990 graduate, was hurting inside after the Greyhounds dropped the season’s first two contests by one goal each to Virginia and Johns Hopkins. Specifically, the combined 30 goals allowed grated on Toomey.

At that point, Toomey admitted Loyola’s starting defense was having an awful time stopping the starting offense in practice. That’s not terribly surprising, considering Loyola is a senior-dominated group led by sophomore Pat Spencer, now considered arguably the sport’s preeminent quarterback as the Patriot League’s two-time Offensive Player of the Year.

The improvement on the back end has been gradual and steady over the past two months. Twice in 10 days, the Greyhounds limited its top Patriot League adversary, Army, to just one second-half goal — including their 13-4 victory in the conference championship game Sunday. Loyola secured the automatic bid to its fifth NCAA tournament in the past six seasons.

The Greyhounds (10-5), a national semifinalist last year and five years removed from their lone NCAA title, will be as dangerous as anyone in the 16-team field after the play-in game.

“The reality is we’re not the defense of 2012. We probably need to get to 12 goals,” Toomey said. “Am I happy with the progress? Yes. Do we need to back it up this week? Yes. Hopefully, we’re saving our best for last.”

It’s been a trying spring in some ways for Loyola, which has bounced in and out of and back into the top 20. The Greyhounds went 0-3 in nonconference marquee games against Hopkins, Virginia and Duke. They dropped overtime decisions at Bucknell and Boston University.

But the Greyhounds also earned an 11-7 win at rival Towson and averaged 15.3 goals in six league victories. Loyola also has won its last seven at Ridley Athletic Complex by an average of seven goals.

Those blowouts largely happened because senior faceoff specialist Graham Savio has been so good at gaining possessions for an offense that is built for the playoffs with Spencer running the show.

If the defense rises to the occasion — and if sophomore goalie Jacob Stover, who has made at least 10 saves in four straight games, can stay consistent — Loyola will be a dangerous out in the coming weeks.

Confidence in Providence

While smarting from consecutive regular-season ending losses to Denver and Villanova, unranked Providence has cause for optimism.

Under fifth-year coach Chris Gabrielli, the Friars (9-6, 3-2 Big East) have a seasoned, solid defense and are assured of their first winning season during Gabrielli’s rebuilding project. Providence will host the Big East tournament, starting today with a rematch against Villanova in the semifinals, and will participate for the second straight year.

The confidence is real in Rhode Island.

“We didn’t measure up against the best,” Gabrielli said. “But it’s not hard to convince ourselves that we’re capable of pulling off [a Big East championship].”

Most Recent

Give & Go: Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse with Ava Angello

Flipping out with Ava Angello, the emerging Johns Hopkins superstar.

The Humphrey Connection: Ashley Joins Top Freshman Chloe at UNC

It's national championship or bust for the talented Humphrey sisters.

2024 USA Lacrosse WCLA National Championship Headed to Wichita

The tournament is making its first-ever appearance in Kansas.

Katrina Dowd’s Winding Career Path Leads to Brown

Dowd was named head coach at Brown. Her path there wasn’t linear.

Twitter Posts

Get the best and latest from USALaxMagazine.com delivered weekly straight to your inbox: