May 16, 2012

Lambrecht: Cummings Finds Redemption With Winning Goal

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Joe Cummings delivered in grand fashion Sunday night against Lehigh after failing in a similar situation one week earlier against Colgate.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

One week before he made the play of his life to extend his distinguished career and bring his fellow Terrapins along for one more chapter in his final NCAA tournament, Maryland senior attackman Joe Cummings owned up to a huge mistake by pointing the finger at himself in front of his teammates.

It happened in the final seconds of the third quarter in the regular-season finale at Colgate, where Maryland was trying to secure one last home game in the postseason. The Terps were leading, 9-8, and had set up a restart play with Cummings as the ball carrier.

The idea was two-fold: Milk the clock before cutting to the goal and letting his defensive read dictate whether to pass or shoot. And don't leave Colgate any time to answer with its explosive transition game.

In the excitement of the moment, Cummings, usually the coolest of customers, proceeded to ditch the plan by barreling into trouble and getting the ball stripped. The Raiders, who had just scored their eighth goal seconds earlier, scooped up the turnover, launched into their fast break, and tied the score with two seconds left in the quarter. With that, important momentum was with Colgate, which extended its lead to 11-9 and never trailed from there in its 13-11 victory.

Following the loss, which landed the Terps on the road for their first-round matchup against Lehigh last Sunday, Cummings got an earful from head coach John Tillman about his decision-making – especially as a team captain. Cummings already was busy beating himself up over his lapse in judgment. He later spoke to the team.

"Joe took responsibility for that play," Maryland LSM Jesse Bernhardt said. "He manned up. He made himself accountable for what happened. That's Joe. That's the kind of senior leadership that stands out with this team, and Joe has exemplified that."

"I was really disappointed in myself after the Colgate game. That was a big momentum changer. I let my team down. I learned a hard lesson," Cummings said. "I was just hoping we would have another opportunity to [play] again. I told my guys I was committed to playing as hard and tough and smart as I could."

Fast forward to Sunday at No. 7 seed Lehigh, where Maryland – having lost a 6-1 lead, having willed its way back from fourth-quarter deficits of 8-6 and 9-8 by tying the Mountain Hawks – turned to the heart of their team once again to make the critical play. This time, Cummings, camped behind the Lehigh net near the end line with the defense playing well off him, waited patiently before hoping to take the last shot or make the last pass. He stood there, cradling the ball for 15...20...30...35 seconds.

Finally, this time, right on time, Cummings made his move. He ran at his long-pole obstacle, veered left and used a screen by senior midfielder Drew Snider to beat a short-stick defender on a switch, looped around the right side of the crease into an open seam, his stick raised. Cummings then zipped a high shot past goalie Matthew Poillon with six seconds left. Game over.

"That was some of the longest 45 seconds of my life holding that ball. Every cell in my body wanted to go to the goal right away," Cummings said. "To be able to reconcile what had happened a week earlier was definitely a good feeling. I'm glad I didn't hit a pipe. I finally put one away."

If anybody deserved to drive home a last-second, game-winning shot for the first time in his college career, it was Cummings, who has more than paid his dues in College Park.

That "pipe" reference? It goes back to April 2011 at Byrd Stadium, a night when Cummings, then an emerging star as a junior midfielder, lit up archrival Johns Hopkins for four goals, but still ended up crushed in an overtime defeat. That night, what should have been the game's final shot and Cummings' fifth goal, found pipe on what proved to the Maryland's last gasp.

Funny how things come full circle. On Saturday in the quarterfinals at Navy, for the first time since 1998, Maryland and Hopkins will knock heads in the postseason.

"To be able to reconcile what had happened a week earlier was definitely a good feeling. I'm glad I didn't hit a pipe. I finally put one away."

-- Joe Cummings on his winning goal against Lehigh.

A player like Cummings – equally humble, no-flash and fiercely competitive, comfortable as the leading man or supporting actor, talks like an Ivy Leaguer but fits nicely in Terrapin skin – should be on such a stage in his last, collegiate go-round.

Ever since he arrived at Maryland, as a graduate of Loyola (Md.) Blakefield, where he often was overshadowed by teammate and current Virginia superstar Steele Stanwick, Cummings has fit in seamlessly with the Terps.

As a first-year midfielder, he split time on the scout team, but made his time count by making the All-ACC tournament team and winning the Levitt Memorial Award as the best freshman. As a sophomore, with the offense dominated by emerging attack stars Grant Catalino, Ryan Young and Travis Reed, Cummings grinded his way to 16 goals in 11 starts.

Last year, as mostly a second-line midfielder who never griped about starting only five games among the 17, Cummings' game flourished with 27 goals and sparkling, 39 percent shooting. That drew third-team All-American recognition. But the ride ended with a 9-7 loss to Virginia in the NCAA title game.

The choice was obvious last fall when it came time for the players to vote on a captain. Especially on a team that had lost six starters and other layers of depth to graduation. How could it not be the senior wearing No. 19?

Ever since he received the Jack Faber Memorial Scholarship at Maryland, after spurning the recruiting advances of coaches such as Tillman – who was then at Navy, before taking his first head coaching job at Harvard – Cummings has brought the full package to Maryland. It goes beyond the crisp shots and sharp cuts and ground-ball cravings that push him. It goes beyond the economy in his game and his team-highs in goals (31) and points (43) this year.

"Joe has all of the attitudes you like in a student-athlete. He's very dedicated to his studies, very low-maintenance in that area. Tremendous competitor on the field, and he doesn't seek the attention some other players might," Tillman said.

"The last thing Joe is worried about is being cool. He's really worried about doing things the right way. He's about as well-rounded a person that you can find."


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