Top-ranked Maryland went to its bag of tricks to pull out a narrow win over visiting Villanova on Friday night.
The Terps employed a zone defense a few times during their 12-10 decision over the Wildcats at Byrd Stadium in College Park, and the tactic was especially welcoming in the final minutes of regulation.
Sophomore midfielder Jack Curran’s goal off a pass from sophomore attackman Tim Mulrenan with 5:02 left in the fourth quarter capped a 4-0 Villanova run in an 8:21 span, and the team needed just two goals to extend the game into overtime.
But Maryland (6-0) – which has traditionally featured tough, brawny defensemen better suited at playing man-to-man defense – went to a zone that appeared to befuddle the Wildcats.
Villanova (1-4), which runs a motion offense that had taken advantage of players cutting through the heart of the Terps defense for goals, was forced to settle for outside shots, and aside from senior attackman Kevin O’Neil (Boys’ Latin), the team did not seem to have a player who could launch long-distance bombs.
Two possessions ended in turnovers, the Wildcats whiffed on a six-on-four extra-man opportunity with 1:13 left in regulation, and Maryland ran out the clock to cement the victory.
Senior goalkeeper Niko Amato, who made seven saves, credited the coaching staff with calling for the zone.
“I think we made a good decision toward the end, going into a little zone look,” he said. “Luckily, our defensemen were able to make it a scrap in the corner and something we pride ourselves on is ground balls, and we came up with the ground ball and were able to get a clear. We needed to get that one stop in the game and fortunately for us, we got it.”
Senior long-stick midfielder Michael Ehrhardt said the benefit of going to a zone defense is that it forces opposing offenses to pause slightly as they consider how to attack.
“It’s just nice to change up the pace and be able to play any style of defense and give the offense a different look,” he said. “We did a good job of switching together, playing good team defense. We just need to clean some of the little stuff up and just move on from there.”
Villanova coach Michael Corrado said the Terps going to a zone was not wholly unexpected.
“I thought we got some pretty good shots,” he said. “… I thought we moved the ball well. It was just a different look.”
* Maryland’s 7-0 spurt in the first quarter was kick-started by Charlie Raffa’s goal just seven seconds into the game. The junior faceoff specialist got things started when he pushed the ball away from Wildcats senior Thomas Croonquist, scooped up the loose ball, and raced into the offensive zone, where he bounced a shot past freshman goalkeeper Dan Willis.
It wasn’t clear if the goal by Raffa (his fourth of the season) was the fastest in school history, but it was the quickest in his career. “It was definitely exciting,” he said. “It definitely got our team going. It made the game start off on the right foot. So it was good overall.”
* Raffa was credited with winning 12 of 20 faceoffs and collecting a game-high 10 ground balls. The Terps also sent in sophomore Henry West, who took five draws and won just one. Raffa played with a brace on his right knee, but said that was unrelated to West taking a few faceoffs.
“It was more important to get Henry some reps tonight just so we have another guy so that we have steady work at the faceoff X,” said Raffa, who improved to 67-of-112 (59.8 percent) and 47 ground balls. “… It’s good to get him some experience for later in the season in order to have him be successful out there.”
* Both teams entered the game ranked in the top 10 in Division I in ground balls. Maryland was third at 37.4 ground balls per game, while Villanova was eighth at 35.5. But the Terps scooped up 49 ground balls to the Wildcats’ 27, and were successful on all 13 of their clears. The number of loose balls Maryland gathered was a significant factor, coach John Tillman pointed out.
”I thought the ground balls were the difference,” he said. “If you look at the stats, when you get seven ground balls from Michael and 10 from Charlie and [nine] from our starting attack, that’s pretty awesome. It gets you a lot of opportunities when Charlie’s working hard and it gets us opportunities. We didn’t fail a clear. So that gives you possessions.”