FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Crabcakes for everyone, hon.
A team that wasn’t even ranked at the start of the season will be joined in the 2012 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship title game by a team that’s not even seeded. What’s more, they’re both from Maryland and are located just 35 miles apart.
“There are so many good players now. There are so many players throughout the country that are really good and I also think maybe the difference between the teams isn’t that great,” second-year Maryland coach John Tillman said. “The rankings are the rankings, but what’s the difference? Is it pretty small? It probably is pretty small and a lot of might be who gets injured, who has good chemistry, who gets better as the season goes along.”
That would include Tillman’s Maryland, the unseeded team (undergraduate enrollment about 27,000). The Terrapins improved to just 12-5 with a 16-10 rout of third-seeded Duke.
And now Maryland, which lost in last year’s championship game to Virginia, will play top-seeded Loyola (Md.) on Monday. Loyola (Md.) (17-1, undergraduate enrollment 3,800) advanced by ousting Notre Dame 7-5 at Gillette Stadium before an announced crowd of 31,774 on a hot, hazy day in southern Massachusetts.
And as close as they are, the schools don’t play in the regular season. For that matter, they haven’t met since 1998 when Maryland beat Loyola in the national semifinals. Maryland leads the all-time series 19-1. They scrimmage each other most years, including this one, but play in different conferences, Loyola (Md.) in the ECAC and Maryland in the ACC, but that’s not all.
“Again, I’ve only been here two years, but for us, the crazy thing is we have so many games. We have the conference, we have Navy, then we’ve got Hopkins. We have the in-state rivalries and they’d love us to play, yet we have to be really sensitive to getting to all parts of the country.”
That’s for sure. For example, Maryland got four goals against Duke from senior Drew Snider, who is from Seattle, while sophomore goalie Niko Amato is from Conshocken, Pa. For that matter, unlike Loyola, most of Maryland’s players are not from Maryland. Last year in the title match against Virginia, not one starter was from the state of Maryland, although there were plenty of Maryland players on the team who saw a lot of action.
“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to add Villanova (in Philadelphia), which we did this year, we have Stony Brook on the docket so we can get to Long Island. We heard from our alums and our fans that we never get to New York and we never go out West. But also get to where the recruits are and let them see us.”
The college lacrosse world saw Maryland in full force Saturday as it outscored the Blue Devils 6-3 in the fourth quarter, picking up a few of those goals when Duke was playing with desperation and throwing defense to the wind.
“They were certainly up to the task and I thought they were terrific in many phases of the game,” 30th-year Duke coach John Danowski said of Maryland. “I don’t know that we played as well as we think we’re capable, but that may have been due to the University of Maryland and how well they played. But I’ll only know that from looking at the film.
“But I’m proud of my guys. We said during timeout we may give up 20 goals there in the fourth quarter, but we were going to play to win at the end.”
Maryland led 7-4 at halftime and built the lead to 9-4 in the third quarter before Duke pulled to 10-8 with 13:44 left in the fourth quarter. But Maryland scored three times in less than six minutes and the rout was on.
“They were better than us today, bottom line, plain and simple,” Duke senior midfielder CJ Costabile said. “In all facets of the game.”
“They made plays,” Danowski said. “I thought the Maryland kids shot very well and put the ball on each other’s sticks and I thought they were much more confident than we were. I thought it was very different. We know that. Maryland kids coming in are tough and rugged young men and very confident. And I thought our guys backed down at times and were not as confident as they’ve been. But again, perhaps that was due to the way Maryland was playing.”
Maryland has had an up-and-down season. It was 5-1 when it lost back-to-back games to North Carolina and Virginia, bounced back with wins over Navy and Johns Hopkins, but then lost to Duke. And in the last game of the regular season, the Terps lost to Colgate.
“We really struggled middle of the year,” Tillman said. “We had so many young guys and trying to mesh was difficult. We just didn’t have the right mix. Guys weren’t confident, maybe the young guys needed to be knocked down a little bit and grow from it and I think as we’ve gone on the kids have become more confident. I think the leaders have become better leaders and the followers have become a little more humble and better followers.”
Saturday, Maryland might have gone in with something to prove, especially after splitting with the Blue Devils this season, winning at Duke 10-7 on March 3 but losing 6-5 in the ACC tournament semifinals at Virginia.
Accordingly, the goalie, Amato, evidently made an inspiring pregame speech to his teammates.
“It comes from the heart. We’re so tight we’re basically a family,” said Amato, who had eight saves. “Anything anyone says we all respect because we all want to hear it. Basically I just wanted to remind these guys that we know we’re talented but I didn’t want anyone to forget that we’re an unseeded team and that we definitely want to play with a chip on our shoulder.
“With all respect to Duke, they’re a great team, but deep down we knew we could beat them and we knew we could play with them. I just wanted us to bring the intensity for all 60 minutes and have some passion and energy out there.”