Luke Wierman trotted out to the face-off X with 10.8 seconds remaining, Maryland’s last hope of completing a furious fourth quarter comeback trailing Virginia 17-16.
Shortly after the whistle sounded, Wierman cleanly beat Petey LaSalla on the clamp and charged forward towards the cage. Sprinting down the middle of the field, Wierman launched the overhand shot, however, a crouching Alex Rode fought it off with a clutch save.
Rode’s 12th and final save of the contest cemented Virginia’s (14-4) back-to-back championships, as Maryland’s(15-1) quest for perfection fell by the wayside. When the final whistle sounded, Maryland fell to the field with their hands on their heads in despair, while Virginia launched its helmets into the air filled with joy and exuberance.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a group,” head coach John Tillman said. “I’m obviously disappointed for them because there was a lot of hurt in the locker room, but man I’m thankful to be with a group like that.”
60 minutes and 33 goals later, Virginia returned to the mountain top of collegiate men’s lacrosse, while Maryland reflected on missed opportunities and what could have been the first undefeated season in men’s college lacrosse since 2006.
Connor Shellenberger and Matt Moore each finished with six points (4G, 2A) spearheading Virginia’s attack. Both players’ lethal combination of speed and athleticism posed challenges for Maryland throughout, as the Terps’ defense overcommitted at times and didn’t communicate effectively on several possessions.
Those miscommunications often put Logan McNaney in a tough position, as the sophomore surrendered 17 goals with 11 saves in his first collegiate loss.
“A lot of their goals came down to us I think not having the best fundamentals,” Brett Makar said. “We didn’t really have a clean game on our part. As far as defensively goes, definitely not our best performance.”
Jeff Conner added four points (3G, 1A), while Payton Cormier (2G), Dox Aitken (1G, 1A) posed added challenges for the Terps’ defense with their versatility and depth. LaSalla won 21 of 37 face-offs overall, including several pivotal victories in the second and third quarters when Virginia built its lead.
Conversely for Maryland, Logan Wisnauskas led the way with six points (5G, 1A) as Jared Bernhardt added (2G, 3A). Anthony DeMaio and Daniel Maltz added a pair of goals each, while Kyle Long (1G, 3A) was one of the main facilitator’s with three assists.
Virginia’s tremendous length defensively posed difficulties for Maryland’s offense, as dodging topside and creating separation from defenders became increasingly challenging. The lengthy trio of 6-foot-5 Cade Saustad, 6-foot-4 Kyle Kology and 6-foot-7 Cole Kastner disrupted the Terps’ flow offensively during their scoring droughts.
After a scoreless opening six minutes, the offensive fireworks persisted for the remainder of the first quarter with a combined eight goals. Wisnauskas’ first goal of the game gave the Terps a 4-2 lead with 3:23 remaining in the first quarter. However, the Cavaliers promptly answered with a six-goal run of their own, flipping a two-goal deficit into an 8-4 lead.
LaSalla’s dominance of Justin Shockey at the face-off X allowed the Cavaliers to maintain possession and continue building on the run. Shellenberger and Conner catalyzed that stretch with five of the six goals, as the Cavaliers blended suffocating defense with efficient quick strike offense.
In a game defined by runs, the Terps’ responded with three goals of their own, trimming the deficit to 8-7 with 5:23 remaining in the first half. Bernhardt scored both of his goals during the run, as Wierman’s success at the X guided Maryland’s offense further.
Despite Maryland surging with momentum, Virginia executed to perfection out of a timeout with Cormier cutting inside for the easy finish past McNaney. That goal pushed the Cavaliers’ lead to 9-7 with 25 seconds remaining in the first half, which remained the score at halftime.
Wierman’s efficiency at the X keyed Maryland’s resurgence, while Virginia’s first half offense played at an eclectic pace often converting in transition. Both team’s offensive prowess only intensified in the final 30 minutes.
As Wisnauskas brought Maryland to within one, Virginia responded with back-to-back goals pushing the deficit to three early in the third quarter. With the Cavaliers gaining momentum, Maryland clawed back with a trio of goals, two by Wisnauskas and one by Roman Puglise, drawing the score at 11 with 9:11 remaining in the third quarter.
Just when the Terps seemed poised to take over, Virginia’s offense exploded with five unanswered goals over the ensuing 11:59. Once again, the dynamic duo of Shellenberger and Moore punished the Terps’ defense, combining for four of the five goals during the run.
Trailing by five with less than seven minutes remaining, Maryland began its comeback effort. Wisnauskas and Maltz scored 10 seconds apart bringing the Terps to within three with 6:03 remaining, riling up the Terps faithful.
“Coach Tillman said it in the huddle, we were in that position against Johns Hopkins, we just had to keep battling,” Wisnauskas said of the run. “We just kept moving the ball and kept moving our feet, that’s what kind of set us up.
Those cheers and excitement only intensified as DeMaio and Bubba Fairman found the back of the net, making it a one-goal game for the first time since the third quarter. 22 seconds later, pushing the pace in transition, Moore beat McNaney extending the Cavaliers lead to 17-15 with 3:35 remaining.
With the game and Maryland’s national title hopes seemingly slipping away, DeMaio scored on the EMO with 10.8 seconds remaining, setting the Terps up with one last shot to tie the game.
That last shot by Wierman was promptly denied by Rode, ending Maryland’s season one victory short of perfection. It also left the Terps with doubts about how they could have executed differently down the stretch in a season defined by great resiliency and sacrifice.
“Love these guys to death,” Tillman said. “I think if you’re a Maryland fan today you’re disappointed in the ending, but you won’t be disappointed in the effort, heart, toughness and character of this group.”