Those of you who read one of my stories about a different sport know that Thursday night I was futilely trying to dig around my bag of superlatives to describe Alyssa Thomas' performance against Florida State. Now here it is only Saturday and I am again seeking the right words to describe Charlie Raffa's play in the lacrosse game at Syracuse. One word repeats and repeats in my ear: domination.
Frequently, winning lacrosse games is a matter of winning a majority of the faceoffs. Raffa did more than win a majority against Chris Daddio and anyone else the Orange threw against him, he won in a landslide taking nineteen of twenty-six. But even more than that, by the middle of the second period, Raffa had so undermined any sense Daddio had that he might succeed that he committed faceoff violation after faceoff violation inducing a total of five in the half. Under the rule that went into effect last season, this meant three extra man opportunities for the Terps.
But Raffa did more than just control the ‘X'. He picked up eleven of the faceoff ground balls and twice took those ground balls straight through the Syracuse defense for scores while threatening to do so on several others. Without Raffa's work at the 'X', there's no ten goal second period explosion. It's hard to tell for certain watching an ESPN3 feed but the Orange players just looked shell-shocked. It showed in their body language. It showed in their confusion and loss of focus. It showed in their inability to make simple plays that should be routine for any college lacrosse squad.
As much influence as he had, this look at the game needs to be more than merely a paean to Charlie Raffa. So it shall be written. So it shall be done. And let's start writing about Niko Amato who was simply stellar in goal picking up eleven saves. After a rough patch early in the game, Amato got some help from his defense as the Terps back line was generally solid in front of him. However, considering the amount of time Maryland possessed the ball, Amato's saves become all the more impressive because it can be so difficult for a goalie to get into a rhythm when he's doing little more than twirling his stick for virtually an entire quarter.
You say you want more. Okay, you drive a tough bargain. I'll give you more. Let's take a look at how we can sweeten this deal since there is a lot more to like about the game the Terrapins' played in the Carrier Dome. What do you say we take a look at the main hustle stat - ground balls. Not only did Maryland more than double up Syracuse with a 36 - 17 edge, the only period the Orange finished with an edge was the fourth when they picked up six to the Terrapins' five. Between you and me, I don't even have to talk to my manager on this one because by that time the outcome had been long decided. What about shots and clears, you ask. Well, Maryland out shot Syracuse 55-32. In fact, the Terps put as many shots on goal as the Orange managed shots. You asked about clears, too if I recall. The deal doesn't get any better. Maryland pitched a perfect game going thirteen for thirteen.
The Terps also showed a facet of their game that, if they can maintain it, presages a successful season: balance. Nine different players shared Maryland's sixteen goals led by three each from Jay Carlson and Connor Cannizzaro. Sure, Matt Rambo failed to get his third consecutive hat trick but he netted two goals as did Mike Chanenchuk and Charlie Raffa. Rounding out the scoring parade with one goal each were Joe Locasio, Bryan Cole, Kevin Forster and Henry West. Clearly, if Maryland maintains such balance, and doesn't rely on one or two sherpas to carry the bulk of the scoring load, opposing defenses can't focus on those one or two scoring threats. The result could be an easier path for the ascending Terrapins and a rockier one for those attempting to devise defensive game plans.
And what can be said about the young guns? They went into a tough environment, played their first road game against the number one (or two) team in the country and could not have acquitted themselves better. Okay, there was that one open net shot that Cannizzaro missed but he kept his composure and scored on the quick restart so he can be forgiven that slip. And let's not overlook everyone's demonstration of a strong killer instinct. Once they got Syracuse on their heels, they never took their collective feet off the collective gas pedal.
In sum, Maryland couldn't have played a more complete game. This win was no accident and there is no question who was the better team on the field today. Since all true Maryland fans are prone bouts of doubt and worry, I will remind you that the season is long and more of the journey remains in front of the Terps than is behind them at this point. They haven't yet faced adversity or challenge which they surely will as they try to summit the Sagarmatha that is ACC lacrosse and they will have to focus on each step of the ascent. Tonight they can celebrate their accomplishment. Though they may have only reached base camp tonight, the start is certainly an auspicious one.