FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Maryland was loose, smart, patient and opportunistic during its run to the men’s lacrosse national title game.
The Terrapins were none of those things Monday and found themselves as the NCAA tournament runners-up for the second straight season.
“As the end of the game went on, it just felt like it was a nightmare and there was nothing we could do to wake up,” sophomore goalie Niko Amato said after the 9-3 loss to the top-seeded Greyhounds (18-1) at Gillette Stadium.
Maryland (12-6) was one of the country’s least turnover-prone teams, yet gave it away eight times in the first half. It couldn’t exploit a 12-3 faceoff edge. It couldn’t determine how to spring its players free against a tight Loyola defense.
But more to the point, the Terps couldn’t score in the final 40 minutes, 40 seconds, their hopes of a first national title since 1975 gradually extinguished on an otherwise pleasant New England afternoon.
“We got away from what we’ve been doing the whole year,” midfielder Mike Chanenchuk said. “We just didn’t play as well as we could have.”
It was all-too-familiar for Maryland, which reached the championship as an unseeded team only to sputter in the final for the second straight year. The Terps lost 9-7 to Virginia in the 2011 title game, though that contest was tied early in the fourth quarter.
Maryland already was effectively done by then this time. Attackman Owen Blye, who had a hat trick in Saturday’s semifinals, didn’t take a shot as Loyola’s Joe Fletcher marked him all day. Midfielder Drew Snider scored 10 goals in the first three postseason games; Greyhounds long pole Scott Ratliff held him to two harmless shots.
It was an abrupt end for Maryland’s made-over roster. The Terps lost five starters from the season before and persistently rebounded from a series of setbacks throughout the spring. Maryland never won more than three consecutive games and only once lost back-to-back games. Monday’s loss ended the Terps’ three-game winning streak.
“I wouldn’t change this year for anything,” attackman Joe Cummings said. “I wouldn’t want to be on any other team. To be on a team that was able to endure challenges and endure hard experiences yet make it to the national championship and have an opportunity to play for first place, it was the most rewarding experience of my life.”
It just didn’t have the perfect finish. Cummings held back tears outside the Terps’ locker room, knowing Maryland had again come close to ending its puzzling title drought.
Maryland fell to 2-9 in national title games, including seven straight losses.
“He said, ‘We got as far as we could without winning it,’ ” Chanenchuk said of coach John Tillman’s message. “He emphasized that this sets the foundation for a championship. We’re confident it’s coming our way. We were the second-best team out there.”
Exhausted and emotionally spent, there wasn’t much the Terps could do to prove otherwise in the second half against Loyola.
“I told them at halftime, ‘Who is this group and who replaced the guys from the other day?’ ” Tillman said. “We just didn’t have our A-game. We just didn’t. We got away from what got us here. Part of that was us, but part of that, you have to give Loyola all the credit.”