ANNAPOLIS —- It isn’t supposed to work out this way.
Even when one school is really, really good and the other really, really is not, the Maryland-Navy lacrosse rivalry is supposed to be close.
All but two of their previous dozen meetings were decided by two goals or less. Another was a three-goal Navy victory.
And then came Friday, when Navy was buried before it could effectively respond. The final three quarters were window dressing; Maryland was on its way to a 10-4 victory.
“They just came at us in the first quarter,” goalie RJ Wickham said.
It showed in six-on-six play as the Terrapins (8-2) breezed past defenders with ease and peppered Wickham with shots. It showed in transition, where Maryland created the sort of opportunities Navy wished it could enjoy for much of the night. It showed in the rare times Navy had possession in the first quarter and promptly turned it over.
After 15 minutes, Navy (4-7) was left with a 6-1 deficit, far too big a hole in a series defined by thin margins. John Tillman, the former Navy assistant now at Maryland, left on the winning side —- just as he had in three of his final four years in Annapolis.
“They came out here ready to play Navy,” Navy coach Richie Meade said. “John’s been here before. He was ready. They were ready. Unfortunately, Navy was 10 minutes late for the game. I think once we settled down, it was a pretty good game.”
It wasn’t nearly soon enough.
The numbers, both in the micro and the macro, are unpleasant for the Mids. It was their largest margin of defeat against Maryland since 1998, their lowest output against the Terps since 1994 and their fewest goals at home against Maryland since 1957.
The wider lens isn’t any more flattering. Navy is assured a losing regular season even before dates with Army and Johns Hopkins. The Mids’ next loss ties the school record for setbacks in a season (set in 1996 and matched last spring). Navy is in serious danger of missing the Patriot League tournament for the first time since joining the conference in lacrosse in 2004.
Yet despite the unsightly record and the continued inexperience (just 12 of the 26 Mids who played Friday were juniors or seniors), this was the first truly lousy outing for Navy. The Mids have four one-goal losses, another setback by two. It’s a group usually better than its record suggests —- though certainly not when it mattered Friday.
It cannot afford extended missteps. A five-goal hole after 12 minutes qualifies as such.
“It’s the first 8-10 minutes,” midfielder Marty Gallagher said. “Other than that, it’s a pretty even game. It was 4-3 after the first quarter. I think we just came out a little slow and got our legs under us a little bit. Again, it was a Navy-Maryland game the last three quarters.”
The early stages, though, ensured Friday would be remembered far differently than most Maryland-Navy games. There would be no close game, just 45 minutes rendered forgettable by a lopsided first quarter that rapidly decided things.
—- Patrick Stevens