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Maryland men’s lacrosse falls to Michigan in Big Ten Tournament championship game, 14-5

Michigan swept the season series against the Terps.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

No. 3-seed Maryland men’s lacrosse entered the Big Ten Tournament championship game as the reigning back-to-back champions, while No. 4-seed Michigan was searching for its first-ever Big Ten championship.

Despite the Terps’ unmatched big-game experience, they did not have an answer to the scoring, energy and toughness of the Wolverines, who stormed the field as the final horn sounded to celebrate a 14-5 win, its first Big Ten Tournament championship and a trip to its first-ever NCAA Tournament.

“There’s still a lot left to play for, you know, hopefully, you know, we’ll see what happens tomorrow [selection day],” Maryland graduate defenseman Brett Makar said. “10 wins. That’s, you know, a heck of a regular season with the schedule we play.”

Despite a sea of red in the stands of Homewood Field, the Michigan fans roared the loudest, and the energy on the field served as a reflection.

“The support is unbelievable,” Michigan junior attackman Michael Boehm said. “The community and the whole program, dating back to the club days, is so bought into this program, and that support was definitely felt.”

On paper, Saturday’s game looked like a lopsided matchup, destined to result in another Maryland championship. But the Wolverines were hot and ready for the challenge. They were playing their best offense of the season heading into Saturday’s game and had just knocked off No. 1-seed Penn State two days prior.

Michigan looked like the more experienced and prepared team from the get-go. Neither team scored on its opening possession, but a familiar face quickly put the Wolverines up one. Boehm, who tallied four goals and two assists against the Terps on April 1, sprinted towards the cage before bouncing the ball between the legs of freshman goalie Brian Ruppel.

“It definitely felt good [to] kick the Big Ten championship off with the opening goal,” Boehm added. “I think just kind of [to] get everybody to take a deep breath.”

It didn’t take long for Maryland to retaliate. Freshman attackmen Braden Erksa, who leads the Terps in points with 41, dashed around the cage before planting his foot, pump faking and firing the ball past Michigan freshman goalie Hunter Taylor.

Both teams went cold over the next few minutes, with Maryland committing three turnovers in the first seven minutes.

Michigan senior midfielder Jake Bonomi ended the drought with his first goal at the 5:59 mark in the first quarter, and both offenses continued to pile on thereafter.

Maryland sophomore attackman Eric Spanos scored the final goal of the first quarter, slicing through the Wolverines’ defense at will. Spanos scored two in the period, but they were separated by three Michigan scores. The Wolverines led by two at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter started the same way the first ended. Michigan graduate attackman Bryce Clay tallied the first goal of the quarter — which was followed by a Spanos goal — and then Boehm scored two goals within five seconds of each other, putting the Wolverines up four with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half.

Things got worse for the Terps, though, as Michigan tacked on two unanswered goals before the intermission.

Facing a six-goal deficit, Maryland needed to make some major adjustments in the second half.

Erksa gave the Terps life early in the third quarter, wrapping around the crease and firing the ball past Taylor, but this proved to be false hope. Senior attackman Josh Zawada countered Erksa’s goal less than two minutes later, when he snaked through Maryland’s defense and found the back of the net.

Zawada scored once more before the third quarter came to an end, putting Maryland in a seven-goal hole with 15 minutes remaining.

Maryland went scoreless in the final period, and Michigan walked away with a convincing 14-5 win and its first-ever championship as a varsity program.

“In years past, we could go to Logan [Wisnauskas], and Logan would settle us down,” head coach John Tillman said. “And we don’t really have that alpha male down there. And I think that’s kind of what happened at both ends today.”

Three things to know

1. Maryland’s underclassmen showed up again. With nerves high in the most important game of the year, many would expect the upperclassmen to step up, and the youngsters to take a back seat. However, the exact opposite happened for the Terps. The veterans struggled, but Spanos and Erksa continued to flash the future of Maryland lacrosse. The two combined for all five of Maryland’s goals.

2. The Terps missed their star defenseman. Junior defenseman Ajax Zappitello was sidelined for the third consecutive game on Saturday. Zappitello, wearing a cast on his right arm, attempted to coach up his younger replacements throughout the game, but Maryland’s defense was simply outmatched without him. The Wolverines entered the game averaging 16.67 goals in their last three games, and scored 14 against Maryland.

“When you have young guys who haven’t experienced having to play two games in three days. To have to bounce back like that [and] get into the prep, it’s difficult,” Makar said. “Going forward, this is going to be a great learning experience for us.”

3. Maryland was outplayed in every aspect. The reigning back-to-back conference tournament champions looked like a shadow of themselves Saturday. Michigan’s offense, defense, goalkeeping and energy all reigned supreme over the Terps.

“We all bought in and said ‘Why not us?’ You know, it’s win or go home, why not come out here and, you know, put on a show and beat the Terps,” Clay said. “You got to play the best to beat the best.”