RICHMOND, Va. -- As the final horn sounded, forward Pierre Venditti shot a quick look at the scoreboard in disbelief and threw his hands to his face.
Walking off the field, coach Sasho Cirovski could only shake his head angrily, while defender Beckett Hollenbach glared at the goal post that had become Maryland's worst enemy.
Outplaying Stanford for most of the game, the Terrapins saw their best NCAA tournament run in three decades end with a cruel, 1-0 national-semifinal loss to the Cardinal yesterday before 17,616 at University of Richmond Stadium.
Stanford (18-4-2) moved on to its first NCAA final, playing No. 8 Indiana tomorrow. Maryland (16-8), appearing in its first Final Four since 1969, moved on with only bitter images of a fluke Stanford score, an overturned, game-tying goal and two missed open-goal chances.
"We played great attacking soccer with a lot of flair and a lot of skill," said Cirovski, before pausing to collect himself. "In the end, when you don't score, you can't win. When you play a great game like that, you deserve better."
Maryland's only critical mistake on defense came five minutes before halftime, when a Stanford volley caught Hollenbach and Terps goalkeeper Christian Lewis (Centennial) out of position.
Lewis, standing in the middle of the goal, should have charged the ball for the save, but Hollenbach instead attempted to clear ++ the ball with a header. The Cardinal's Lee Morrison then headed it back to the far post, where it ricocheted, hit a backpedaling Hollenbach on the left hip and deflected into the goal, the first time the Terps had trailed in 310 minutes of this tournament.
"There wasn't much I really could do," Hollenbach said. "I thought I played it the best that I could."
It wasn't the first time that Stanford has advanced with some extra help. The Cardinal defeated San Jose State in the first round when a Spartans defender put a crossing pass into his goal in sudden-death overtime.
"We'll take any goal we can get," Stanford coach Bobby Clark said. "I think to get to the final of any tournament, you need some luck."
The goal wasn't the only stroke of fortune for the Cardinal. Ten minutes into the second half, it appeared Hollenbach had headed in a corner kick from Steve Armas to tie the game. However, in the midst of the Terps' celebration, the referees disallowed the goal, ruling that Venditti had interfered with the goalkeeper.
"All I remember is going up for the header," Venditti said. "I went up, and the keeper went up. I don't remember fouling him. There may have been contact, but I don't feel I did anything wrong on the play."
Yet the Terps failed to capitalize on the breaks that the Cardinal handed them.
Less than three minutes after the score, Stanford turned the ball over with its goalkeeper, Adam Zapala, out of the position. With an open look from 16 yards, Maryland's Jamie Eichmann hooked the ball wide left.
Then with 23: 50 left in the game, Maryland had another uncontested shot on goal. In transition, Keith Beach tapped a 20-yard shot that would have rolled into the goal, but Morrison made a quick recovery to slap it away.
"Coming into this weekend, this wasn't exactly how I pictured it ending," said Beach, a senior midfielder, who had his previous three seasons at Maryland end in the round of 16. "It's real disappointing. But I'd rather go out here than in the second round again."
To its credit, Maryland didn't allow the mishaps and missed opportunities to prevent persistent strikes. The Terps outshot the Cardinal 14-8 and constantly attacked in waves against a tightly packed Stanford defense.
Maryland's final two scoring chances came off the foot of its leading scorer, freshman Taylor Twellman. But his shots with 6 1/2 and 5 1/2 minutes left both sailed over the crossbar as the Terps were shut out for only the fifth time this season and the first time since Nov. 13 against Clemson.
"We got a lot of second-half chances tonight -- more than normal against a Stanford team," Cirovski said. "There are no real miracle answers to it. Unfortunately, we are not going to the final, and that's very, very hard right now."
NCAA semifinal results
Stanford 1, Maryland 0
Indiana 4, Santa Clara 0
Championship (tomorrow) Stanford vs. Indiana, 2 p.m.
Pub Date: 12/12/98