Men’s lacrosse team edges Denver, 9-8, for spot in championship
MARYLAND 9, DENVER 8 Late equalizer waved off; Ohio State awaits in final
foxborough, mass. — Maryland senior attackman Colin Heacock has learned to shutter the anxiety that comes with playing in the lacrosse Final Four, so he didn’t panic as he watched his teammates scramble to defend Denver’s final possession in Saturday’s national semifinal. He stood defenseless at one end of the field as the final seconds ticked down, his team ahead by one goal and clinging to the hope of returning to the national championship game for the third year in a row.
Heacock had a chance to put the game away on the previous possession, but his acrobatic goal was called off because of a crease violation. Maryland survived with a 9-8 win after Pioneers attackman Connor Donahue was hit with the same call with 9.2 seconds left, his hard-charging goal called off after officials ruled he had gone into the crease.
“Those kind of situations kind of happen, and you can’t think that much about what’s going on,” Heacock said. “It’s just the heat of the moment.”
Maryland (15-3) ran out the clock following the call against Donahue, keeping alive its quest to win the school’s first national championship in 42 years. The Terrapins will meet Ohio State (16-4) in the national championship Monday, the rubber match after each team beat one another by one goal in two previous meetings this season. The Buckeyes rallied to beat Towson, 11-10, in the other semifinal Saturday.
Maryland’s Connor Kelly scored three goals, including the go-ahead tally with 8:41 left, and Heacock and Dylan Maltz each added a pair for the Terrapins on a day in which they watched star attack Matt Rambo draw heavy coverage and opted to use methodical offense to wear down the Pioneers.
The all-Big Ten national championship game on Memorial Day was made possible after Maryland held off a second-half rally by Denver (13-4), which had defeated the Terrapins in the national
final in 2015 and entered Saturday’s semifinal with the most productive faceoff man in the country in senior Trevor Baptiste.
But the Pioneers struggled to win possessions early as Baptiste struggled in the faceoff circle — he won just 11 for 21 draws Saturday against Maryland’s tandem of Austin Henningsen (7 for 15) and Jon Garino Jr. (3 for 6) — which set the tone for a Maryland game plan that called for long and drawn out offensive possessions.
“Jon and Austin collectively, that was maybe kind of the big theme for the game was those two guys hanging in there,” Maryland Coach John Tillman said.
While Maryland’s own Tewaaraton Award candidate, Rambo, struggled to shed Denver’s swarming defense, the Terrapins used their balance to build a 5-3 lead in the first half. Rambo’s only goal of the afternoon, a firsthalf rocket that helped give Maryland a 5-3 halftime lead, set the school record for career goals (154). But he didn’t need to force the issue as the game wore on.
The teams traded goals to begin the third quarter, with Maryland’s Tim Rotanz answering Donahue to keep his team’s lead at two.
But possessions remained at a premium for much of the rest of the third quarter. Maryland had one possession in the third quarter that lasted 3 minutes 23 seconds, capped with Maltz wrapping around the net and scoring his second goal to make it 7-4. Denver responded with its third midfield goal of the day, an unassisted score from Joe Reid, to end another scoring drought that lasted 10 minutes 6 seconds.
Connor Cannizzaro, the former Maryland attack who was a part of the Terrapins’ heralded 2013 recruiting class that included Rambo and Heacock before transferring to Denver, trimmed his former team’s lead to 7-6 with just less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
After Denver had tied the score with 10 minutes left, Kelly beat Pioneers goalie Alex Ready topshelf to give Maryland a 9-8 lead. On the ensuing two possessions, Maryland missed prime opportunities. One shot hit the crossbar and another shot dangerously danced across the crease before Denver retained possession.
“We have a lot of respect for them,” Kelly said. “They’ve got a lot of lanky guys that can get out to your hands.”
With just more than a minute remaining, Rambo split a doubleteam and found Heacock, who appeared to score from pointblank range. But officials ruled that he was in the crease, giving the Pioneers one last chance for the equalizer. Donahue’s bid was waved off, however, because of the same infraction.
“That game could have gone anybody’s way. It literally was a game of inches,” Tillman said. “You look at those last two plays, which I actually thought the refs made the right call on both of them, but that’s how close that game was.”
Maryland’s Matt Rambo tries to get around Christian Burgdorf. The Terps will play Ohio State next.