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NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Tournament 2017: Maryland wins 9-8 thriller over Denver in Final Four

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The Terps advance to their third straight national championship game.

NCAA Lacrosse: Men's Championship Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Maryland men’s lacrosse earned a heart-pounding, 9-8 win over Denver on Saturday afternoon in the NCAA Tournament semifinals. The Terps will play for a national championship on Monday.

Junior midfielder Connor Kelly led the team with three goals, and netted the Terps’ most important goal of the game to break an 8-8 tie in the fourth. Goalie Dan Morris finished with eight saves, including a number of season-saving stops in crunch time.

Maryland faceoff specialist Austin Henningsen and Jon Garino went toe-to-toe against Denver’s Trevor Baptiste, the nation’s best at the X, and the Terps didn’t break. Henningsen finished 7-for-15 and Garino 3-for-6 against the NCAA’s leader in faceoff percentage.

Colin Heacock opened the scoring for Maryland. The senior faked right to fool a Denver defenseman and create space, stepping into his shot as if stepping through a wide open door. Denver’s Colton Jackson answered back, but Maryland scored two more to end the first quarter with a 3-1 advantage.

With 9:41 left in the first, Rambo went aerial to cement his legacy as Maryland’s all-time leading goal scorer with his 154th career strike.

Henningsen, with the help of Maryland’s wing play, went 3-for-5 in the opening quarter, limiting Baptiste and taking Denver out of its usual rhythm on offense.

Early in the second quarter, Denver’s defense left Dylan Maltz unchecked right in front of the goal, and he put the Terps up 4-1 to start the second. Nate Marano scored back-to-back goals to bring it within one, but Heacock flicked a wrist rocket from the turf to put Maryland back up 5-3.

Maryland’s faceoff unit finished the half at .500 against Baptiste, an impressive performance given the unit’s erratic play at times and Baptiste’s dominance. Against Notre Dame, he lost one out of 22 draws at the X.

The Terps and Pioneers went back and forth in the third quarter, but Maryland never relinquished its lead. Both offenses scored three in the quarter, and the Terps took an 8-6 advantage into the fourth, with 15 minutes separating them from another NCAA Championship appearance.

Freshman Ethan Walker, who’d been held in check all game, scored back-to-back goals to start the fourth quarter and tie it up at 8-8.

With his team being backed into a corner, Kelly sniped the top left corner of the cage to give Maryland a 9-8 lead and some breathing room. With two chances to knot the game up late in the fourth, Morris made back-to-back saves that kept his team in front.

In Denver’s final possession of the game, Connor Donahue found the back of the net but had it reversed on a crease violation call. Maryland kept the ball for the final 10 seconds and ran out the clock.

When the scoreboard hit zero, Maryland secured its spot in the championship game Monday against Ohio State. The Terps’ 42-year championship drought is on the line.

Three things to know

1. This was a nail-biter, and Maryland came out on top. It took the entire 60 minutes, but the Terps finally secured their spot in the program’s third straight championship game. Their one-goal lead lasted the final 8:41, and Denver’s crease violation negated what would have been the tying goal. It was as close as could be, but the Terps are still fighting.

2. Maryland’s defense prevailed. Maryland restricted Denver to just nine shot attempts in the first half, the lowest total by the Pioneers in a half all season. Denver’s two most prolific scorers, Connor Cannizarro and Ethan Walker, couldn’t crack Maryland’s defense, combining for just seven shots and three goals.

3. The Terps won the intangibles. Maryland was plus-10 on shots and plus-11 in ground balls, which limited the Pioneers’ possessions considerably. Denver’s bread and butter comes from winning the possession game off of Baptiste’s dominance, but the junior couldn’t dominate against the Terps like he’d been able to all season.