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No. 7 seed Maryland defeats No. 6 seed Virginia in one-sided NCAA semifinal

The second half proved academic after the Terrapins dominated early with lopsided faceoff play

<p>Junior midfielder Noah Chizmar sprints down the field during the Cavaliers' loss Saturday.</p>

Junior midfielder Noah Chizmar sprints down the field during the Cavaliers' loss Saturday.

A frenetic start transformed rapidly into a mundane blowout, with the Maryland lead inching larger and their faceoff dominance wreaking destruction, making the Virginia offense stutter. Time leached away, and when it finally ran out it cemented a 12-6 victory Saturday for the No. 7 seed Terrapins (11-5, 3-2 Big Ten) over the No. 6 seed Cavaliers (12-6, 1-3 ACC) in a disappointment of an NCAA Tournament semifinal.

In the tunnel before the game, with Virginia waiting impatiently for No. 1 seed Notre Dame, the previous semifinal’s winner, to exit the field, an attention-grabbing exchange unfolded. Notre Dame graduate midfielder Danny Parker, leading his team off the field, spotted Virginia graduate attackman Connor Shellenberger.

“See you tomorrow,” Parker said.

“See you Monday,” Shellenberger said, correcting him.

The words never came close to fruition. Virginia scored first — an impressive backhand goal from Shellenberger — but then went dormant. The Terrapins scored four goals in a row, ripping off three in 80 seconds toward the end of the first quarter.

Maryland exited the quarter grasping a 4-1 lead, thanks largely to graduate faceoff specialist Luke Wierman. Wierman exerted almost unchallenged domination at the faceoff dot, delivering possession after possession to a humming Terrapin offense. He won his first eight faceoffs, went 10-12 in the first half and finished 15-22.

“He was dialed in,” Maryland Coach John Tillman said. “He was ready to go.”

The Cavaliers tried everything to respond. They even, early in the fourth quarter, deployed graduate defenseman Mitchell Whalen. Junior midfielder Anthony Ghobriel, the putative top specialist, went 0-6. Graduate midfielder Thomas Colucci found more success, going 7-15, but the overall deficit torpedoed Virginia.

“We just got exposed today,” Coach Lars Tiffany said. “But, I will say, Colucci did great,  didn’t he? How much he battled in that second half, he was able to start neutralizing and get the ball more.”

Maryland dictated not just possession but pace, cranking the game speed several levels lower than the kinetic tempo Virginia prefers. Virginia twice ran up against an expiring shot clock in the first quarter and sent most of its shots flying everywhere but the actual goal. That pace, extinguishing transition opportunities, formed the backbone of Maryland’s defensive game plan.

“A lot of what we were focusing on was getting them 6-on-6,” Terrapin graduate midfielder Colin Sharkey said. “They’re a team that excels in uneven or 5-on-5 situations, and that’s what they look for.”

The second quarter packaged more of the same as the first. Sophomore midfielder Joey Terenzi rifled in a shot to break a 17-minute and 16-second scoring drought for Virginia, but then Maryland scored twice more in rapid succession. One of those goals came from senior attackman Daniel Kelly, who scored a game-high three goals.

Virginia still seemed alive by halftime, trailing 7-3. But then the wheels fell off. Maryland scored twice in the second half’s first 53 seconds, and the game already felt over. Virginia players started throwing checks that seemed laced with added venom.

The prevailing sentiment in the week leading up to the game was that Maryland had, in the five weeks since the teams’ regular-season meeting, evolved — becoming better, stronger, almost a different team. This game verified that statement and then some. Wierman seemed unstoppable, the Terrapin defense locked down and the ground ball brigade commanded.

“We got beat,” Tiffany said. “And we got beat soundly by a coaching staff with a great defensive game plan. And [we] couldn’t generate enough offense when we did have the ball.”

The white flag arrived at the fourth quarter’s beginning, when Whalen took the faceoff. The game included two meaningful moments for Virginia, though they were weak consolation. Freshman attackman McCabe Millon’s two goals brought his season total to 41, breaking the program freshman record for goals. Shellenberger’s two points brought him to 67 career NCAA Tournament points, pushing past Syracuse legend Gary Gait’s 66. 

The Cavaliers also received a solid performance from sophomore goalie Kyle Morris, who made his first career start after entering midway through the first quarter of last week’s thrilling quarterfinal victory. Tiffany kept the goalie situation intentionally murky this week but said the coaching staff knew pretty early Morris would start over junior goalie Matthew Nunes. Nunes, however, did play the game’s final 17 minutes 30 seconds.

Maryland will advance to play Notre Dame for the national title at 1 p.m. Monday. This Final Four included the sport’s last three national champions — Notre Dame won last year, Maryland the year before that and Virginia the year before that. But only two of that triumvirate could advance this time around.

Virginia is still lacrosse royalty. But this year, despite a fantastic run, it will not ascend to the championship match.


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