For the second consecutive week, the Maryland men's lacrosse team looked absolutely dominant. For thirty minutes, that is. This is a problem because lacrosse games are sixty minutes long. With no disrespect intended to Villanova (or to Stony Brook for that matter), Maryland aspires to be the best team in the country and to compete for the national championship. However, their 12-10 victory margin against the Villanova Wildcats Friday night at Byrd Stadium was no greater than Delaware had on their home field against the Wildcats two weeks ago. Still, as Fernando would say, "It is better to look good than to feel good." And at 6-0 the Terps look "mahvelous."
As Jake notes in his recap, Maryland got off to an astonishingly quick start when Charlie Raffa took the opening face off and sprinted down the field and scored what he called "my fastest goal ever" getting the home team off to a blistering start. Ten minutes in, Maryland goalie Niko Amato had picked up the first of his seven saves and the Terrapins had a 5-0 lead with scores from five different players. In fact, it wasn't until freshman Matt Rambo scored with 1:23 to play in the period that a Maryland player scored his second goal. This scoring diversity should please coach John Tillman because defenses can't lock in on one player. Though Mike Chanenchuk and Connor Cannizzaro each had a hat trick to go along with the pair from Rambo, the Terps' 12 goals came from seven different scorers.
Now, this may seem a bit of a strange description to describe a quarter in which Maryland scored seven times, the first quarter was at least as much about the Terps' defense and hustle plays as it was about their scoring. While it was comforting to see Charlie Raffa back at the ‘X' for the Terps, the junior from Syosset didn't have his best quarter. He committed two face off violations and had a turnover immediately after one of the three of eight face offs he won. But the defense caused three turnovers, Amato had three saves and the Terps were able to capitalize on those opportunities. Maryland also picked up twelve ground balls to the Wildcats' six.
The second period was a bit of a harbinger as the teams played a much more even fifteen minutes. Villanova had a slight edge in shots at 9-8 but Henry West combined with Raffa to pick up three of the five face offs. Though the Wildcats scored quickly to open the second, the Terps had several opportunities to open their lead but some sloppy passing led to 5 turnovers and prevented them from doing so.
The Wildcats came out of the locker room having made some halftime adjustments and prepared to lay it all on the line. They started finding gaps in the Terrapins' defense and scored two quick goals on strong one on one dodges that got the shooter's hands free and good looks at the goal. The game appeared to turn back in Maryland's favor when Casey Ikeda caused a momentum halting turnover and Colin Heacock scored a goal with a high rocket and the Terps under a 30 second warning. Raffa won the ensuing face off and Maryland converted on a power play to push the lead back to seven with 5:47 to play in the third. From this point, it was pretty much all Wildcats.
It's clear that this young Terrapins team needs to learn how to play with a large lead. Said Tillman after the game, "It's a tricky thing because you don't want to go to the goal and make a bad decision or go to the goal get double teamed and lose it. You want to give your defense a little bit of a break and you want to take the best opportunity not necessarily the first one." And pretty much everything Tillman said Maryland shouldn't have done, they did. They took some quick ill-advised shots. They got sloppy and turned it over six times in the last twenty minutes. And they also lost focus committing five penalties in that same span including two offsides and one stalling foul. Predictably, Villanova capitalized by scoring five of the last six goals and turning a comfortable Terrapins lead into a narrow Maryland victory.
The loss of big early leads in back to back games was a frequent subject of the post game press conference. Here are some of the responses:
Tillman: "We've got some teachable moments. There are some things we need to do better but that's part of early season lacrosse and I know if we're in the same situation later our guys will make good decisions."
Mike Chanenchuk: "Playing with the lead is something you have to learn. That's something we'll go over in practice and try to clean some stuff up. As Coach said, it's a tricky situation playing with the lead and trying to make good decisions. You're trying to slow down the pace a little bit toward the end of the game. I don't think the young guys were forcing things too much but we'll have to go back to the tape and look at that and clean it up."
Michael Ehrhardt: "They played fast and they're a good offense. We had a few breakdowns and Niko bailed us out. We need to clean up some of the little stuff and just move on from there but overall our defense came together held them and we got the win."
Niko Amato: We just needed to make that one stop. I think we made a good decision at the end going into a little zone look. Luckily our defensemen were able to make it a scrap in the corner and we came up with the ground ball and came up with the clear. We needed to get that one stop at the end of the game and fortunately for us we got it."
The Terps travel to Ann Arbor for a Tuesday afternoon contest with future B1G foe Michigan. After that, the intensity ratchets up a notch with games at North Carolina and a visit from Virginia. We can hope that luck will play a diminishing role.