ANNAPOLIS | Maryland’s rise from an unseeded team to a trip to the final four is complete.
That the Terrapins clinched it by thoroughly outplaying Johns Hopkins in Saturday’s NCAA tournament quarterfinal only made it easier to appreciate.
“This is one is definitely extra-special because it’s Maryland-Hopkins, it’s a huge rivalry,” attackman Joe Cummings said after the 11-5 rout. “There’s a lot on the line. For our guys to play with the composure, with the energy and to have a complete team win like we had, it was really exciting. This is definitely one that’s special.”
Maryland (11-5) got seven goals from its first midfield – three from Drew Snider, two each from Mike Chanenchuk and John Haus – as it defeated the second-seeded Blue Jays (12-4) for the second time this season.
The Terps will face the winner of Sunday’s game between third-seeded Duke and unseeded Colgate in the semifinals on Saturday in Foxborough, Mass.
It was a jarring loss for Hopkins, and not just because it lost twice in a year to its nearby rival for the first time since 1973 and the second time ever. The Blue Jays’ final four drought is now four years, double the storied program’s previous longest absence from the tournament semifinals.
The way it unfolded was also stunning. Maryland dominated possession by a more than 2-to-1 margin, and Hopkins waited too long to press the issue.
“I thought we got outplayed,” coach Dave Pietramala said. “I thought we got outhustled. And I thought they deserved to win.”
It was a very Maryland-like win. The Terps controlled 12 of 20 faceoffs, dominated groundballs (26-15) and committed only 10 turnovers. Seven players scored, with the midfield providing the bulk of the production as Hopkins could not prevent Maryland from creating spacing issues 10 yards from the cage.
Throughout, the Terps eagerly picked on Hopkins’ short stick defensive midfielders, though that didn’t entirely explain all the seams Maryland exploited.
“It wasn’t really the matchup,” Snider said. “I was in good spots on the field with a good amount of space. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Maryland’s formula looked a lot like Hopkins’ typical path to postseason success for several years. Yet the Blue Jays were simply incapable of defending Maryland’s midfielders and later were simply drained from spending so much time on the field.
Hopkins has lost in the quarterfinals in three of the last four years, and has lost by a combined 35 goals in its last four tournament ousters.
“We have to learn that in this game, in this pressure situation that circumstance and pressure don’t dictate what you do,” Pietramala said. “You keep driving the bus straight, you keep grinding it out and rely on the things you know best.”
It was precisely what the rugged Terps did, going on a six-goal run that bridged halftime to seize an 8-2 lead.
By that stage, Hopkins had little choice but to push the pace in the rare instances it could take possession.
“If you look at the way the game played out, we got the majority of the tough groundballs and that was important to us because Maryland lacrosse, you win the tough groundballs,” Cummings said. “That’s what we wanted to do.”
So now Maryland’s back in the final four, an unseeded party crasher in as wide open a tournament as the sport has seen in some time. The revamped Terps, who graduated so much from last year’s national finalists, have coalesced just in time to find themselves back on lacrosse’s largest stage.
“That was the one thing this year; we were going to believe it could happen,” said Maryland’s John Tillman, who became the first coach to take two unseeded teams to the final four. “Why not? Why not us? If everybody was willing to step outside their comfort zone and make sacrifices, why not us?”