Today from Annapolis, the Maryland Men's Lacrosse team had a chance to advance to their 4th Final Four in five seasons and set up a meeting with arch-rival Johns Hopkins in Philadelphia. Standing in front of them? No. 3 North Carolina, who boasts perhaps the best offense in the country. It was a big ask. But the Terps rose to the occasion and steamrolled the Tar Heels 14-7 to earn a place at Championship Weekend, their 4th this decade.
The opening face-off was won by the Terps, with Matt Neufeldt picking up the groundball after Charlie Raffa flipped the ball out on the draw. Maryland's opening face-off was very deliberate with few shots. Eventually, Joe LoCascio found Bryan Cole, cutting to the cage from behind, on the doorstep and he easily finished past Burke to put Maryland up 1-0.
Maryland won the ensuing face-off after a violation on Carolina. They nearly turned it over on an errant pass, but an offsides call - the opposing teams attackers going over the halfway line - kept the ball in the sticks of the Terps. They used to their advantage. An initial dodge by Connor Kelly, a member of the Terps 2nd Line Midfield, was dealt with but he wheeled around his defender and shot past Kieran Burke near side to put UMD up 2-0.
North Carolina got on the board at 9:45 of the 1st, as Stephen Pontrello blew past his man from behind the cage and snuck a low angle shot past Bernlohr. 2-1 UMD.
Maryland answered two and half minutes later on a similar looking goal. Matt Rambo picked the ball up from behind the cage. With Carolina playing him to go to his left, Rambo took it to his right and finished topside to make it 3-1. Both defenses were playing very tough inside, quickly doubling players who tried to get towards the cage and frequently forcing turnovers.
The advantage stretched to three for Maryland with 29 ticks left in the opening quarter. A deliberate and slow possession saw them get slapped with a timer on. Eventually Isaiah Davis-Allen dodged down the alley before pulling off and feeding Colin Heacock who found himself open after a late slide by Austin Pifani of UNC. Heacock went high to high past Burke.
End of 1: Maryland 4-1 North Carolina
Maryland struck first in the second frame as well. After tossing the ball on a cycle around the perimeter, Joe LoCascio used a little hitch step to shake free of his man and then blew a lefty shot past Burke to the roof of the cage. 5-1 UMD.
An answer came from Joey Sankey 3:10 into the first. The roles were reversed for the Tar Heels, with Jimmy Bitter feeding Sankey in front of the cage for a quick stick past Kyle Bernlohr. 5-2 UMD. Maryland was quick to provide a response themselves however. Connor Kelly again was on the scoresheet, using a shimmy shake to break past his man and cranked a lefty shot into the far corner. The freshmen had scored four goals all year, two of them coming in today's game.
As they did in the 1st Quarter, the defenses took control of things in the middle stages of the quarter. Both teams got looks, occasionally a good one, but the defenses were working very hard to alter them. Force feeds inside and into the crease also weren't working very well.
The first Extra Man Opportunity went to the Tar Heels after a slash was called on Tim Muller. UNC only got one shot off on the possession as Bernlohr stuffed a shot from Luke Goldstock as the latter cut towards the middle of the field. Bernlohr tried to clear it himself but ran into trouble and turned it over in the middle of the field. Multiple looks at an empty cage appeared to present themselves but UNC passed it up before Bernlohr eventually made a save as he got back just in time.
Maryland's 7th was nearly identical to their 1st. Joe LoCascio drove down the alley just a bit before feeding Bryan Cole on the doorstep and after a few shot fakes he calmly finished low. A FO win for the Terps managed to spark a quick transition opportunity and after they entered the box, Rambo fed Bobby Gribbin who was cutting towards the cage. Gribbin stuck one in the top corner to stretch the lead to five.
Terps weren't done though. Following a big Bernlohr save in transition and UNC being called for too many men, which sent them down a man, Connor Kelly completed his first half hat trick with just 16 ticks left in the half to make it a 9-2 game. Maryland moved the ball on a cycle around the perimeter before creating the open look for Kelly who ripped it high.
Halftime: Maryland 9-2 North Carolina
This was a performance from Maryland in the first half that we had not seen since March. It superseded what they did vs this same UNC squad in the game out in California. The offense controlled the game at their pace while occasionally speeding it up. Raffa won 8/13 at the X, Bernlohr made some key saves in the second quarter, and the defense was suffocating. Add it all up and you had a commanding seven goal lead.
The opening of the third quarter began just as the opening of the previous two frames began. Terps striking early. Dylan Maltz made a nice drive from Goal Line Extended and fed Bryan Cole who was cutting to the cage this from up top and he shot into the top corner. It was a hat-trick for Cole, who continued his exemplary play over the last few weeks. 10-2.
Maryland's sharp execution continued a few minutes later. Jay Carlson split through a double near the front of the cage to put the Terps up 11-2. Following a slashing penalty called after the face-off, Carlson scored once again by receiving a feed inside, turned and roped one to the roof of the net. This chased Kieran Burke from the game who had made just one save. Brian Balkam entered for North Carolina.
Pace of play slowed down considerably after Carlson's tally. Maryland started to be very deliberate and conservative on offense. Carolina was erratic and lifeless on offense to go with the tremendous play from the Terps. Eventually a goal came, with Dylan Maltz wrapping around from behind to make it 13-2. Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter both got tallies for UNC late in the 3rd Quarter.
End of 3: Maryland 13-4 North Carolina
Stephen Pontrello scored the opening goal of the 4th on a step down shot. It was his 2nd of the day. Luke Goldstock picked up a rebound and put it in the empty net for UNC's 6th.
Maryland's 14th, which broke a long drought, was goal number four Bryan Cole who has having a career day. He dodged from behind and used a nice little shovel shot to find the low corner. Up to that point Brian Balkam was playing well for the Tar Heels. North Carolina added one more goal before the end of the game.
Final: Maryland 14-7 North Carolina
Wow. That's all there is to say. What an incredible performance from Maryland. They were the underdog. I didn't see anyone pick the Terps in the build-up to this one. Not only did they win against a tremendous North Carolina team. They just pummeled them. Right from the start. The offense clicked, played their game while mixing in quick shots in their possessions. Defensively they completely shut down a tremendous Carolina offense. And they were all over the ground fighting for loose balls. It was quite simply a masterclass all around.
Next up? Johns Hopkins. The Terps get a shot at revenge against their arch rival in Philadelphia with a berth in the National Championship on the line at 3:30 PM ET Saturday. We'll have plenty of coverage for that over the next week. But for now....enjoy this win.