With Epstein Out, Hopkins Rides 'The Other Guys' to Win Over Towson


Cole Williams had a career-best seven points on three goals and four assists to pace Johns Hopkins past Towson.

Joey Epstein’s absence was obvious on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Homewood Field.

The sophomore sensation was hoping to make his debut in what could be a breakout season, but a lower-body injury suffered in the preseason kept him out. He stood on the Blue Jays’ sideline with his white No. 32 jersey and a black brace attached to his right leg. He warmed up before the game, and did the same at halftime.

But Epstein never took the field. He is “day-to-day” according to the team, but Pietramala admitted that suiting up is an encouraging sign.

“Joey is obviously a very talented player,” coach Dave Pietramala said. “But we’ve been practicing without him for a bit of time.”

Johns Hopkins, already with a fairly new defensive unit, had to battle crosstown rival Towson without one of their best players.

Not a problem.

With Epstein’s absence, the Blue Jays got to showcase the depth that they hope will make up a top-tier offense in 2020. Veterans like Cole Williams and Connor DeSimone stepped up, and a handful of new names contributed, leading Johns Hopkins to the 15-7 season-opening win over Towson. For the Blue Jays, it’s another win in a series that has belonged to the home team since 2014 — alternating wins and losses since then.

Eight different players scored for Johns Hopkins, including a trio of hat tricks from Williams, DeSimone and sophomore Garrett Degnon. Williams broke a career high with seven points on three goals and four assists.

Two players, Degnon and freshman Owen Murphy, scored their first career goals. Both joined as part of a complementary group that could bode well for the Blue Jays’ success in 2020.

The other guys.

“We’re going to need those other guys,” Pietramala said. “Today was about those other guys. We know what we’re going to get from Cole. We need Murphy, we needed Degnon. We need them to contribute. If we can continue to get that and have Joey come back, then you can be dangerous.”

Although the Johns Hopkins defense was missing much of its core from 2019, its offense suffered less of a blow from graduation. However, with Epstein out, the Blue Jays took the field without two of their top three scorers from last season (Kyle Marr graduated after dropping 39 points).

It was apparent early who would anchor the offensive unit in Epstein’s absence. Cole Williams scored the first goal of the game, and the season, and followed with another to help Johns Hopkins take a 5-1 lead after the first quarter — one in which freshman Owen Murphy scored his first career goal. That run set the tone for a strong effort on the offensive end.

Murphy, who played on the U.S. U19 training team, finished with a goal and an assist.

“It was great to see a young guy who, he’s been up and down a little bit through the preseason, to get one and build that confidence. It’s a credit to the offensive group playing team ball,” Pietramala said of Murphy.

Williams, on the other hand, has brought a new mentality to the 2020 season. As a senior, he's acutely aware that he has one shot left to bring a title back to Homewood.

“It’s that senior mentality, knowing this is the last ride for me. Just rallying with the other seniors knowing that we’re the leaders of this team.”

Williams, known for his signature “flow,” also has a new look. He revealed during the postgame press conference that he suffers from a condition called Alopecia, which causes spot baldness. As it is cyclical, Williams shaved all of his hair off this offseason.

“He looks better now than he did before,” Pietramala joked.

“That means a lot,” Williams replied.

“Soon, we’ll both be in the same place,” Pietramala answered.

After the initial hot streak from Johns Hopkins, Towson senior LSM Koby Smith kickstarted a rally in the second and third quarters, dishing off two assists and adding one of his two goals. His athleticism was on display in transition throughout the day.

Smith, a second-team All-American in 2019, showed flashes of being one of the most dynamic players in the country.

“Our team as a whole has worked on more transition and moving the ball better on the clear game,” Smith said. “I don’t plan on [scoring in transition]. It’s just something that comes with the flow of the game.”

The Tigers tied the game at 6-6 on Smith’s second goal, and it was up to Johns Hopkins to find a way to grab the momentum once again. That’s when junior middie Conor DeSimone made his imprint on the game, scoring three out of four goals to push the Blue Jays’ lead to 10-6 late in the third quarter. DeSimone had just four goals in all of 2019.

From there, the Blue Jays started to find holes Towson’s zone defense. Jon Mazza cut the deficit to 10-7 with 18 seconds left in the third quarter, but Johns Hopkins faceoff man Matt Narewski followed it up 10 seconds later for a vital goal.

Williams continued making his mark throughout the fourth quarter, dishing off assists to both Evan Zinn and Forry Smith to push the lead — one that proved insurmountable.

Another absence that loomed large at Homewood was that of former Towson faceoff man Alex Woodall. He went 21-for-28 in last year’s 17-8 win over Johns Hopkins, going up against Kyle Prouty and Narewski.

Saturday, that same duo combined to go 20-for-26 against the Tigers, leaving little chance for a comeback.

“We had issues at the x and off the ground, all over the field, and that led to a lot of possessions for them,” coach Shawn Nadelen said. “We weren’t good enough on either end of the field to neutralize that.”

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