As the final seconds ticked off the clock Saturday in Annapolis, there was more celebrating on the Maryland sideline than usual. This wasn’t just emotion; it was record-setting emotion.
With the Terps’ 11-5 quarterfinal win against No. 2-seed Johns Hopkins, Maryland coach John Tillman became the first head coach in NCAA Division I lacrosse history to lead unseeded teams to back-to-back appearances in the final four.
Maryland (11-5) didn’t sneak in, either.
The Terps physically dominated and outhustled a Hopkins (12-4) team that was looking for revenge after losing to Maryland, 9-6, earlier this season. But before a crowd of 13,390 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, this game was rarely in doubt after Maryland built a 6-2 halftime lead.
The win marked only the second time the Terps had beaten Hopkins twice in a season, the first sweep coming in 1973. This was also the first time Maryland had beaten the Blue Jays in tournament play since 1998.
“There was a lot of jumping around in the locker room, a lot of water being sprayed,” said Maryland midfielder Drew Snider, who finished with a game-high three goals. “But we know there are two more games left, and we have to get ready for that.”
The Terps outshot the Blue Jays, 28-16, and had the ball on offense for nearly 40 minutes. Maryland had a 26-15 advantage in ground balls and forced 14 turnovers as the Blue Jays failed to clear the ball on seven of 21 attempts.
Hopkins couldn’t stop Maryland’s midfield. The first unit accounted for seven goals. Besides Snider’s three, John Haus and Mike Chanenchuk each had two. The Terps worked their game plan to perfection, isolating the Blue Jays’ slow short-stick midfielders on defense.
If the Blue Jays close defensemen were slow sliding to help out, Snider and Co. punished them. If they got there too soon, the Terps were quick to dish the ball off. Maryland repeatedly picked on freshman midfielder Nikhon Schuler.
“We have a lot of unselfish guys,” Tillman said. “We have guys who don’t care about getting the credit for a goal. We just want to score. We have a lot of guys who are willing to work hard and help out. As long as we have guys who want to get out of the comfort zone and make sacrifices, then we keep asking, ‘Why not us?’”
A year ago, the Blue Jays lost to Denver in the quarterfinal round. There were expectations of going to the Final Four this season with three seniors and six juniors among the top 20 players.
“I’m disappointed,” said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala. “I thought we got outplayed, I thought we got outhustled. I thought they deserved to win. In the end, we have to learn how to win this game. We’ve had two really nice regular seasons, a good first-round game, and then we’ve not done a good job in this game.
“We need to spend the summer figuring out how we’re going to be better in this game because this year’s team and last year’s team were good enough to get to the Final Four, and we didn’t. We have to find some better ways to do some things.”
Like most teams that have faced Hopkins this season, the Terps came out deliberate on offense and selective with their shots.
On goals from Haus and Snider, Maryland managed a 2-1 lead at the end of the first quarter. Snider added two more goals in the first five minutes of the second quarter, and attackman Joe Cummings scored with 3:51 left to put the Terps ahead, 6-2, at the half.
From then on, Maryland worked the ball on offense as Hopkins had only four shots in the third period. When the Blue Jays got the ball, they usually turned it over or only got off one shot. Pietramala said he thought about putting more defensive pressure on the Terps in the third quarter instead of waiting to the fourth, but it may not have made a difference.
The Blue Jays defense was worn down midway through the third. Hopkins managed two straight goals in the fourth period off extra-man and man-down situations, but there wasn’t much of a threat.
By then, it was time almost time to celebrate. The Terps were making history. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after Maryland lost 17 seniors from last year’s team that lost to Virginia, 9-7, in the national championship game.
“We are very fortunate to go back to the Final Four,” Tillman said. “This is a major accomplishment, and I’m happy for our players, our school and the state. At times it wasn’t pretty, but that’s the way we play.”