BALTIMORE – If there was one thing that could be expected when Duke and Maryland took the field at M&T Bank Stadium, it was a close, hard-fought game between two teams that had shown themselves to be well-matched.

When the teams first met on March 5, a goal by Duke’s Zach Howell with three seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime, where the Blue Devils claimed victory on a goal by Jordan Wolf with less than three minutes to go. When they faced off again in the ACC championship game on April 24, the Terrapins needed to score four of the last five goals to leave Durham with an 11-9 victory and the team’s first ACC title since 2005.

In the third meeting, though, Maryland didn’t leave any room for doubt. Senior attackman Grant Catalino led the offense with three goals, freshman goalkeeper Niko Amato stopped 13 of the 17 shots he faced, and the Terrapins stormed into the NCAA championship game with a 9-4 win against the Blue Devils.

“Maryland was too physical, too strong and too athletic today,” Duke head coach John Danowski said, “and I think it showed. I loved the fight of our guys. We got knocked down a whole bunch and got right back up and right back into it, but not enough poise in the clearing game in the second half.”

Duke went 12 for 17 in clearing attempts, including four of eight in the fourth quarter, as the Terrapins ran their lead from 6-3 to 9-3 before Christian Walsh closed out the scoring with just over two minutes to go. That, combined with 11 faceoff wins in 17 attempts, gave Maryland a leg up on the Blue Devils that proved vital to the victory.

“To hold them to 12 of 17 clearing,” Maryland coach John Tillman said, “that’s five possessions, and then facing of at 11-of-17, that’s another five more possessions. That’s 10 possessions in a big game.”

Maryland needed the extra chances after turning the ball over 17 times – “I’m not sure, from an execution standpoint, that we were better than a C tonight,” Tillman said – but it’s hard to argue with results, and Maryland’s results have been getting better and better of late.

Having played in NFL stadiums against Notre Dame and Syracuse already this season, Duke wasn’t about to be intimidated by the size of the venue or the pro-Terrapin bent of the crowd.  – “Once you’re in the game, you kind of tune it out,” sophomore midfielder David Lawson said – but as Maryland got physical with the Blue Devils, the reactions of the crowd amplified the impact of the hits.

“I think there’s a few plays throughout the game, whether it was a ride, or a slide on defense, where we got a few good hits on them,” senior attackman Grant Catalino said. “Those are always difference-makers throughout the game, that swing the momentum either back in your direction or more in your direction. When players step up and make those big hits, physical plays, it’s huge for a team, especially with the crowd behind us. That just magnifies it even more. When you hear that roar after a big hit, that’s a heartbreaker for the other team.”

The Terrapins will look to make that crowd roar even louder on Monday, when they face Virginia for the NCAA championship. Representing a state that embraces the sport of lacrosse so emphatically, the opportunity to win a championship in the state’s largest city is something that Tillman has learned to appreciate very quickly in his first season as the Terrapins’ head coach.

“We look at what we have going for us,” Tillman said. “The tradition that we have, the alumni that we have, a state that loves lacrosse so much, we look at it as a source of strength for us. It would mean so much to everybody that it makes us play harder and work harder because we can make so many people happy. It would be so great for the people in this state to have a championship in any sport, but for the sport of lacrosse, when almost every high school plays, it would be amazing. We run out behind that [state] flag, and not many teams do that, so we do play for more than ourselves.”

And on Monday, the Terrapins will run out behind that flag one more time, looking to bring home the program’s first NCAA championship since 1975.

“It’s kind of a feeling that you’re playing for the teams that played here the last 30 years,” Catalino said. “It’s not every year that a senior class gets to play on Memorial Day weekend for the championship. There’s a lot of guys that wish they could be in our spots, but they’re out in the stands cheering us on. They’ve supported us all year, and it’d be awesome to go out as a senior winning it.”