There were some pregame snow flurries as the Maryland Terrapins and the UMBC Retrievers warmed up for their lacrosse game at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium Saturday, but the snow had stopped by the opening face off and things heated up quickly as the Terps and Retrievers renewed a rivalry that missed last year's contest due to weather issues. The last time the schools met, Maryland came out on the short end of an 8-7 final. It was clear from the outset that the coaching staff and players were determined not to allow that history to repeat. And the truth is, the Terps dominated the 14-3 game more than the final score indicates.
Pete has a nice recap of the game here so I'm going to try to take a look at the bigger picture and point out just a few specific plays he might have missed because I think they're noteworthy for one reason or another.
Coming into the game, one of the big questions facing the Terps would come at the ‘X', where UMBC's Phillip Poe dominated Maryland's Curtis Holmes in the last match up. Poe picked up where he left off, winning the opening faceoff against Charlie Raffa. In fact, Poe won the first four faceoffs before Raffa figured out how to counter the UMBC senior. Once he got things going, he won the next four and finished even for the half. By game's end, the Terps held a 12-9 edge. "We have a lot of faith in Charlie," Maryland coach John Tillman said after the game. "He hung in there and our wing guys, Michael Bender did a really good job . Michael Earhardt was excellent as were our short sticks. Brian Cooper was very good so was John Belz. Collectively those guys did a really good job."
In a strategy that played out throughout the game and was considerably different from the game two years ago, the Terrapin defense came out aggressively clearly, determined not to allow the Retrievers to slow the game too much. Brian Cooper caused a UMBC turnover on the Retrievers' first possession. In all, Maryland would force 14 UMBC turnovers. According to Tillman, "The guys deserve all the credit. We went back and looked at the game from two years ago and we changed some things. The guys took to very well and they repped it hard in practice this week. When they did get opportunities, Niko (goalie Niko Amato) did a fantastic job of bailing us out."
Part of the defensive strategy was to try to speed the pace of play. "The last time we played them," Tillman said, "they had the ball for most of the game. They had long drawn out possessions and we felt like we were too conservative. We needed to extend at times to keep them off balance. We wanted to create more tempo and more possession in the game. We thought if it was a faster tempo game that could potentially help us."
Another area the Terps turned things around from the last time they faced the Retrievers was in getting to ground balls. In 2012, UMBC had a 26-18 edge. Saturday, Maryland dominated; and I mean 40-17, domination. I asked Tillman about it afterward, "Whether it was Casey Ikeda or Mike Earhardt, Brian Cooper, Johnny Belz - those guys just did a great job getting it off the ground and getting it up and out and trying to push some tempo.That was something we looked at from the last time. We felt that there were a lot of fifty-fifty ground balls that UMBC just did a better job."
Why did the Terps play so well this week? Tillman's answer might surprise you. And it's coming up right after this little commercial break.
Before the break, we'd asked Coach Tillman about some of the things that contributed to Maryland's improved play this week. Here's what he had to say: "One of the things that really helped us, and this isn't B-S, was that our facilities people were awesome this week. We were outside every day this week and the weather was awful. Those guys were getting up at three in the morning. They were pushing snow and every day no matter how bad it looked the field was clear. Being able to practice the whole field was big for us. You saw the results out there today."
Of course, the last line of any great defensive effort is the goalkeeper, and the Terps got another solid effort from Niko Amato who finished the game with nine saves. I talked with Mike Earhardt after the game. "When we make a mistake, he's usually there to bail us out. It's nice to have him back there knowing he's reliable."
Okay, so you can't win a game on defense alone. You do have to score some goals as well. One prized goal scorer is freshman Matt Rambo, who now has two hat tricks in two collegiate games. Rambo said, "In practice I go against maybe the best defense in the country. So they prepare me for big games like this. And Chanenchuk has such a heavy shot that defenses drift toward him and it opens space for me and when I have a wide open shot, I'm going to take it."
Two goals stood out for me. Another freshman, Connor Cannizzarro, had one when he scored the third goal of the game. He started behind the goal and faked left so hard that he got his defender off his feet. He then came around back to his right and had an open look that he didn't miss. But perhaps the true highlight reel goal came late off the crosse of Lucas Gradinger. Gradinger launched a rocket from about 12 yards that caromed off the pipe. It came right back toward him and he got low and flicked a backhand shot inside the far post.
And now it gets interesting for the Terps. They travel to Syracuse for a game in the Carrier Dome Saturday at 1 pm before returning home the following week to host Duke. Let the games begin.