Maryland men edge Ohio State, 10-9, to capture Big Ten lacrosse title

For The Baltimore Sun

In a game that featured nine lead changes and another standout performance by Connor Kelly, the Maryland men's lacrosse team's hopes of defending its Big Ten championship came down to a pair of sequences during the final four minutes Saturday night in Ohio State's Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.

The Terps got what would become the game-winning goal with 3:27 to go from Colin Heacock and then got a key defensive stop by Jared Bernhardt as it beat the Buckeyes, 10-9.

The win avenged an 11-10 overtime loss in Ohio Stadium on April 22 for Maryland, which improved to 12-3 and earns the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The NCAA selection show will air at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.

Kelly followed his four-goal performance in the semifinal win over Penn State on Thursday with a career-high five goals to earn tournament Most Valuable Player honors.

"This win's huge," Kelly said. "When you're in the Big Ten championship, we knew it was going to come down to one ground ball or a few. I think the stick's dialed in right now, but honestly everybody had a huge game. Honestly we just try to play unselfish ball and get it around the horn, and Heacock's an unbelievable talent."

Maryland's Matt Rambo, who was the tournament MVP last season, gave the Terps an 8-7 lead with 9:28 left.

The Buckeyes (13-4) tied it at 8 with a score by Colin Chell with 8:25 left but Kelly scored his fifth goal with 6:45 to go to make it 9-8.

Ohio State tied it at 9 on Eric Fannell's second goal with 5:53, but Heacock wrapped around the goal and scored while losing his balance for the game-winning score.

"[You] always want to be working on different moves," Heacock said. "I was just fortunate enough to have it go in the back of the net."

The Buckeyes had one final opportunity to score, but Bernhardt forced a turnover with 1:45 remaining to give the Terps the ball back.

"[Bernhardt made] just a tremendous play," coach John Tillman said. "It was great effort, great hustle, running in and getting it because if [Ohio State] shoots that ball, there might be a different team celebrating right now."

A year after cruising to a six-goal win in the Big Ten championship game, Maryland trailed 3-1 with 8:16 left in the opening quarter.

Kelly cut it to 3-2 with 6:44 left in the first quarter and tied it at 3 with 12:05 to go before halftime on his third goal of the game.

With 9:41 to go in the second period, junior midfielder Tim Rotanz gave the Terps a 4-3 lead, but Ohio State tied it at 4 on a goal by Tre Leclaire with 3:28 to go in the second quarter.

With 12:37 left in the third, Bernhardt took a pass from Rambo and scored to make it 5-4.

Maryland took a 6-5 lead with 13:47 remaining on Kelly's fourth goal.

Leclaire scored with 12:52 and 11:27 in the final period to give Ohio State a 7-6 lead, but Maryland answered again as junior defender Bryce Young scored unassisted with 11:18 to go to tie it at 7.

Joining Kelly on the all-tournament team were Rotanz, goalkeeper Dan Morris and defenseman Tim Muller.

"Playing three top 10 teams in eight days, I'm really proud of that," Tillman said. "I have so much respect for Ohio State. Those games could go either way. Our poles came up with some key ground balls."

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