EAST HARTFORD — With Maryland men’s lacrosse playing an entirely Big Ten regular season schedule this spring due to COVID-19 restrictions, many considered the undefeated Terps relatively untested heading into the NCAA tournament
Whatever remaining doubts people had toward Maryland were extinguished Saturday afternoon at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
The No. 3 Terps, the only non-ACC team to make the Final Four, demolished No. 2 Duke 14-5 to advance to the Division I men’s lacrosse national championship game, where they’ll face No. 4 Virginia at 1 p.m. Monday for the title. The Cavaliers, also the defending champions from 2019, upset No. 1 North Carolina 12-11 in the first national semifinal.
Saturday’s semifinals, the first time Rentschler Field has hosted the event, had an announced attendance of 13,707.
Monday will be Maryland’s 15th title game appearance (sixth in the last 10 tournaments), and first since it won the program’s third championship in 2017. The 15-0 Terps will look to complete their first undefeated season since 1973, when they also won the NCAA title.
Senior attackman Jared Bernhardt, the presumptive Tewaaraton Award favorite and Maryland’s all-time goals scorer, finished with five goals on 11 shots and two assists, having a hand in exactly half of Maryland’s scoring. His performance was historic, too. His fifth and final goal was the 200th of his career, he added to his Maryland single-season record for goals (68) and set a program mark with 15 goals in a single NCAA tournament.
“Jared’s very, very comfortable in being very unselfish, and he’s surrounded by a lot of good players,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “He’s just a player. We call guys like that players. And he’s the best, truly the best, I’ve seen in quite a while.”
It wasn’t just Bernhardt, but the Terps’ suffocating defense that propelled them to Monday’s championship showdown. They held Duke, which entered Saturday averaging just under 15 goals per game, to a season-low five thanks in large part to sophomore goalie Logan McNaney’s 17 saves.
“I thought from defense to faceoffs to goalie play to offense, that’s probably the best 60 minutes we played all year,” Maryland coach John Tillman said.
After a tight first quarter, Duke (14-3) made it a one-point game with five minutes left in the half before the Terps scored four goals in two minutes, edging the Blue Devils 6-2 in the second quarter to pull ahead 8-3 at the intermission.
Maryland’s defense held Duke scoreless for over 20 minutes before Duke sophomore Dyson Williams found the back of the net with less than 10 seconds remaining in the third. The Blue Devils never got close to chipping away at the deficit, instead suffering from another nearly quarter-long scoreless stretch until there were just 20 seconds remaining in the game.
“They have unbelievable players across the board,” said Maryland senior defender Nick Grill. “We just wanted to make sure we executed our game plan, do what [assistant] Coach Bernhardt wanted us to do and just play our game. I think Logan showed everyone how good he is, how underrated he is.”
“We kind of joked at the beginning of the week, it was like getting ready [to play] the NBA All-Star team,” Tillman added, “but we did feel like getting ready for [quarterfinal opponent] Notre Dame, some of what they do did carry over.”
In the first semifinal game, the Cavaliers (13-4) punched their ACC rival first. Led by redshirt freshman Connor Shellenberger (six points) and sophomore Payton Cormier with a hat trick, Virginia stormed ahead in the second quarter with six unanswered goals to give the Cavaliers a 9-4 halftime lead.
Though Virginia would never relinquish their lead after the break, UNC (13-3) responded in the second half, outscoring the Cavaliers 4-3 in the third and holding them scoreless in the fourth. Greenwich product Will Perry had career-high (and team-high) five goals, including UNC’s final two to cut Virginia’s advantage to one with 3:05 to play.
Following a failed Virginia clear attempt, North Carolina had the ball out of a timeout with 20.9 seconds on the clock, but Virginia managed a final defensive stand to come away with the win.
“We got on a roll, and then Carolina and [face-off man Zac] Tucci got on a roll,” Virginia coach Lars Tiffany said. “Fortunately, [senior goalie] Alex Rode and our team defense, and especially our man-down [defense], stepped up to ensure that Carolina didn’t get goals in bunches.”
Rode, a senior and the Most Outstanding Player of the 2019 tournament, finished with 15 saves.
“We played UNC twice already. We know they get up and down. We know they were going to go on a run. They’re a great team,” Shellenberger said. “We had to keep our foot on the pedal. They ended up coming back, and we had to keep punching back in the fourth quarter. That’s why it was such a great game.”
Virginia can earn the program’s seventh NCAA title and second straight with a win on Monday.
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Alexa Philippou can be reached at email@example.com