Notre Dame graduate student midfielder Jack Simmons, a Lutherville native who played at McDonogh, looked at the dozens of giddy elementary school kids gathered near the front row of Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, arms outstretched over the white concrete wall.
“Who’s got a Sharpie?” he asked.
They were begging for autographs and, after the Fighting Irish’s 12-9 win over Johns Hopkins on Sunday evening before 13,354 fans, Simmons was happy to oblige. He’d had a great 24 hours: a trip back close to home; a special on-the-road graduation ceremony to accept his Notre Dame degree Saturday night; and, then, the second-line midfielder scored three goals and one assist to help the third-seeded Irish (12-2) advance to next weekend’s final four at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
There, on Saturday, Notre Dame will face top-ranked Virginia (13-3), the program Simmons transferred from ahead of this season in pursuit of an MBA while using a fifth year of athletic eligibility. Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins’ season is over, ending with a 12-6 record and an NCAA quarterfinal appearance for the first time since 2018. It was the best season for the program under third-year head coach Peter Milliman.
At least one local kid was all right with seeing the Blue Jays ousted.
“It felt good,” said Simmons, an Under Armour All-American while at McDonogh. “I had actually never played here before. A lot of the guys were asking me about that. It’s obviously an awesome venue.” He seemed to enjoy the atmosphere. Each of his three scores came at critical moments. The first was Notre Dame’s first, then he gave the Irish a 7-4 lead just before half off an assist from Pat Kavanagh, who fired up the Irish bench in celebration.
Simmons completed the hat trick while giving Notre Dame a 9-6 lead, driving from X (behind the goal) and taking advantage of a blown coverage by the Johns Hopkins defensive midfield. That came amid a four-goal run bridging the late third and early fourth quarters. He earlier assisted on one of Chris Kavanagh’s three goals that put the Irish ahead 5-4.
Hopkins, which held a significant 16-8 edge on faceoffs, pulled within one goal again midway through the third, but the Blue Jays let the Irish take over from there with a few turnovers and sloppy shots early in the shot clock. Hopkins generated only 31 shots (to Notre Dame’s 43), including several weak ones in the second half gobbled up relatively easily by Irish goaltender Liam Entenmann.
“We didn’t do a great job of taking care of the ball and at times tried to do too much. We strayed away from our game plan, and that’s where we struggled,” said Hopkins grad student midfielder Garrett Degnon (DeMatha), who had two goals along with junior midfielder Russell Melendez, Salisbury transfer Johnathan Peshko and freshman middie Matt Collison. For Degnon, it was his final collegiate game, along with four other grad students and any seniors who decide not to use their pandemic-related extra year of eligibility.
The loss capped a season of marked improvement for the Blue Jays, who won just 11 games in Milliman’s first two years after replacing program legend Dave Pietramala following the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.
“I love this team,” Milliman said Sunday after pausing a few seconds when asked to give an opening statement after the game. “The senior class was such a critical part of our success this year from the beginning of the year and even through the summer. When we came together as a group for the first time in mid-August, we set the tone that we were going to be different. We were going to take this to a new trajectory. Their commitment to this program was going to materialize into some results, and their determination to do that and lead this group has been inspiring. They all left this jersey better than they found it, and I think we’re going to be better because they were a part of this program. That’s the message to the guys who are coming back and who aren’t.”
This year, Hopkins often closed out teams in the fourth quarter. In fact, that was the signature of a five-win midseason run (with victories over Syracuse, Navy, Delaware, Michigan and Rutgers). They claimed the second seed in the Big Ten conference tournament along with a regular-season win over archrival Maryland, and the Jays comfortably expected an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament even after losing to the Terps in a postseason rematch in the Big Ten semifinals.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the progress we’ve made,” Milliman said. “The distance we’ve covered and challenges we’ve overcome. Some things did not go our way, had some ups and downs and we have those today, but the guys never stopped fighting or working for each other. And as a coach I can’t ask for much more than that.”
Notre Dame, whose only two losses this season have been to No. 1 Virginia — its national semifinal opponent — presented a stiffer challenge, including a robust defense and a Baltimore kid making the most of his homecoming.
“It was good to be back home,” Simmons said, “an easy drive down for my parents.”
Loyola women’s season ends, too
In the Division I women’s tournament, top-seeded Northwestern dispatched eighth-seeded Loyola 16-6 in a quarterfinal in Evanston, Ill., Thursday night.
The Greyhounds fell behind 8-1 in the second quarter and were down 15-3 before scoring a few goals late. Tewaaraton Award candidate Izzy Scane scored seven goals for the Wildcats (19-1), the Big Ten champs, who will play Denver in the final four on Friday in Cary, N.C.
Loyola was led by Georgia Latch’s goal, assist and five draw controls. The Greyhounds’ season ends with the second-most victories in school history, a 19-3 record, a Patriot League title and an NCAA quarterfinal appearance for a second straight season.
Salisbury men go for a title
The Salisbury men (22-1) are headed back to the Division III final after a 12-8 win over Christopher Newport (19-2) in a semifinal on Sunday at Sea Gull Stadium. Grad student Cross Ferrara scored three goals and had four assists to lead Salisbury, which will face Tufts (22-0) in the D-III championship game at Lincoln Financial Field.
Corey McLaughlin is a veteran writer and editor who has covered sports in Baltimore for a decade, including for Baltimore magazine, USA Lacrosse Magazine and several other publications.