When Maryland sophomore Austin Henningsen started the NCAA men’s lacrosse semifinals 2-for-2 at the faceoff against Denver, he had already fared better than the Pioneers’ previous opponent, Notre Dame.
That’s how dominant Denver’s Trevor Baptiste is.
“Psychologically I think that was really helpful for us, because everybody kept talking about how good he is, and he is all that,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said following the Terps’ 9-8 nail-biting victory.
The faceoff unit finished 10-for-21 against Denver, between the efforts of Henningsen and senior Jon Garino Jr. This is a stark contrast to last week’s quarterfinals matchup between Notre Dame and Denver, where the Fighting Irish won just one draw against Baptiste, a player so dominant at the position he’s nicknamed “The Beast.”
Baptiste technically “won” the day with an 11-for-21 outing, but Henningsen set an early precedent that took Baptiste and Denver out of their element.
“To get two early after he won all but one last week was like, ‘Okay. Wow, okay,’” Tillman said. “Then we got a goal, so we were kind of playing it from ahead. Whereas with a lot of games with them, they win a lot of faceoffs early, and they're always playing from ahead.”
Denver’s fifth-highest scoring offense in the country had a lot to do with the possessions Baptiste could give them. But with Henningsen and Garino nearing .500 on the day, Maryland flipped that script and dictated the possession game.
The Terps outshot the Pioneers by 10 and scooped 11 more ground balls, while limiting Denver’s two best offensive players, Ethan Walker and Connor Cannizzaro, to just three combined goals.
“They had a good defensive scheme,” Cannizzaro said. “They came out and pressed all over the field, so they disrupted our motion and ball movement just getting set up on the offense.”
Maryland’s defense shined, especially down the stretch.
From the game’s opening faceoff to closing buzzer, Maryland never trailed once, a testament to the performance by Tillman’s defense.
“There was a point throughout that game where we had the ball on the offensive end for a huge amount of time,” Maryland defender Tim Muller said. “So by the time it got back down to us, we were pretty fresh. That’s pretty important for everyone.”
Connor Kelly connected on a laser in the fourth to put Maryland up 9-8, but there was still 8:41 left to play, and Denver had its chances.
With Denver knocking on the doorstep, goalie Dan Morris made back-to-back saves to keep Maryland ahead. The Pioneers had one final chance to send the game to overtime, but Maryland’s defense prevailed again.
Tillman thought about switching up the defensive scheme on the last possession, either moving to a zone or switching up the assignments of the long-poles.
Assistant coach Kevin Conry told Tillman, “Nope, we're sticking to who we are and what we're all about.”
After Connor Donahue’s potential game-tying goal was ruled back because of a crease violation, Maryland had successfully held Denver’s offense scoreless for the most important nine minutes of the team’s season.
“They were really excited and really focused in the huddle,” Tillman said. “They were excited to go back out and play that last possession, and they weren't scared.”
The win put Maryland in the 2017 NCAA National Championship, where the Terps face Ohio State in a rematch of the Big Ten Conference Championship.