Charlie Raffa has gritted his way through a sore right knee that has limited him in practice and slowed him in Maryland games this season. The injury could be an issue for the junior faceoff specialist when the seventh-seeded Terps (13-3) meet sixth-seeded Notre Dame (11-5) in an NCAA tournament semifinal Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Pain flared up again during the third quarter of the team’s 16-8 pasting of Bryant in Saturday’s quarterfinal at Hofstra University and forced Raffa to give way to sophomore Jon Garino. Coach John Tillman conceded that the injury could affect Raffa’s availability.
“We’ve had a number of weeks where we’re not sure of where he is or how he’s doing,” Tillman said on Tuesday morning during his weekly conference call. “So we kind of get through the week and evaluate closer to the weekend of where he is and how he is. But it is concerning, and certainly it always is when you’re talking about a knee injury for a guy that’s logging a lot of minutes for us and has been so vital to our success.”
Raffa had already won 70 percent (14-of-20) of his draws and picked up five ground balls against junior Kevin Massa and the Bulldogs before taking a seat on the bench. But he downplayed the severity of his knee injury.
“I just felt weird,” he said Saturday. “I didn’t feel it was worth it at that point anymore. And Jon has proved himself in practice. He’s done great, and he beats me half the time. So it was a great time for him to see what he could do, he did really well against a kid that’s one of the best guys in the nation. So I think he did a good job today.”
If Raffa (67.8 percent on 183-of-270 and 108 ground balls) is limited, Maryland may have to turn to Garino against the Fighting Irish duo of senior Liam O’Connor (59.9 percent on 193-of-322 and 117 ground balls) and junior Nick Ossello (46.8 percent on 36-of-77 and 24 ground balls. Tillman expressed his trust in Garino (59.7 percent on 37-of-62 and 24 ground balls).
“Jon, when we’ve asked him to come in, has really done a nice job this year,” Tillman said. “… We are confident in Jon. He goes against Charlie every day, and he’s done a good job there. I thought he handled some situations very well. So we won’t hesitate to use him. We’ll be confident in his ability. I think we just have to have both guys ready, and if we get a sense that Charlie can’t help us, then we’ll go to Jon without hesitation.”