- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — The realization sunk in for Maryland attackman Joe Walters as he crouched near a goal and was soon surrounded by jubilant Massachusetts players.

His career — and his hope of leaving Maryland with a national title — was over. Instead, he was left with the indelible memory of a miserable and premature departure from the final four for the third time in four years.

With its senior stars stunningly silent, Maryland limped out of the semifinals with a sluggish 8-5 loss to Massachusetts at Lincoln Financial Field, its 31-year title drought alive for another year.

“I never would have thought my career would end like this,” Walters said. “As a team today, we got outmatched.”

That’s putting it mildly for the second-seeded Terrapins (12-5), who were sharp in the tournament’s first two rounds. But yesterday, they reverted to the tentative style that hindered them during a midseason swoon. Maryland struggled with passing and catching and shot a ghastly 5-for-43.

Even more startling was the vanishing act of Maryland’s top four scorers, all seniors. Walters, the program’s career leading scorer, was held without a point in his final game. Neither Brendan Healy nor Bill McGlone scored. And Xander Ritz was shut down after scoring early in the first quarter. Collectively, they shot 1-for-32.

“This is our team and we got here with certain guys,” Maryland coach Dave Cottle said. “I don’t think it would be right for me to say one guy didn’t play well. As a team offensively, we scored five goals. … We just needed somebody to step up and help us, and I don’t think we did that on the offensive end.”

Senior Sean Morris scored three goals and freshman goalie Doc Schneider made 15 saves for the Minutemen (13-4), who won in their first final four appearance and will meet top-seeded Virginia (16-0) tomorrow in the national title game. Massachusetts is the first unseeded team to reach the final since Maryland in 1997.

Yet for all of the Minutemen’s ecstasy, the Terps had no one to blame but themselves for their foibles. Even after making it through the first quarter tied, Maryland was tentative. And despite dominating possession in the second quarter, the Terps still trailed 3-2 at the break.

“You’d like to have this one over again,” Cottle said. “Even at 3-2 at halftime, we felt like the ball was dying in our sticks, and it hadn’t died in our sticks all year.”

Maryland struggled to contain Morris, offering help whenever he had the ball. But he still scored midway through the third quarter, and teammate Brian Jacovina’s deposit off a rebound made it a three-goal game. Seconds later, Massachusetts’ Jake Deane won a faceoff, was stuffed by Maryland goalie Harry Alford (10 saves) and then slipped in the carom to make it 6-2.

The Terps scored twice early in the fourth quarter to end a drought of 32:34 and won the faceoff following the second goal. However, Walters dropped a pass and Deane grabbed the groundball and started a transition break that Jim Connolly finished with 11:52 left.

Maryland would score once more, but the Terps’ shaky shooting prevented them from making a push after Morris capped the scoring with 6:33 remaining.

The Terps, who matched their season-low in scoring, fell to 20-21 under Cottle when they don’t shoot 28 percent. Maryland is 37-1 over the last five years when they top 28 percent shooting.

“We did things that a veteran team doesn’t do,” McGlone said. “We threw the ball away four or five times just throwing within each other. You can’t make those kind of mistakes on such a big stage. … You have no chance to win if you do that in May. It’s frustrating to watch and frustrating to be a part of when you’re making mistakes.”

Walters said the humidity had some impact of his own stickwork, but it doesn’t entirely explain the offensive collapse. It is a mystery that won’t soon be solved.

“I wish I had answers,” Walters said. “Defensively, I really didn’t think they played outstanding. We just beat ourselves. We didn’t move the ball well, and one thing led to another. Once we were down, we didn’t play the same.”

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