- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 24, 2009

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. | As minute after minute elapsed and Virginia hovered on the brink of a blowout, coach Dom Starsia figured an extended outburst from his potent offense would eventually vault the Cavaliers back into their NCAA lacrosse tournament semifinal against Cornell.

It never came.

The top-seeded Cavaliers, who did as they pleased in the first two rounds of the tournament, fizzled in a 15-6 loss to the fifth-seeded Big Red on Saturday at Gillette Stadium, trailing all the way while struggling in nearly every facet of the game.

“We’d been so sharp the last couple weeks,” a bewildered Starsia said. “It just seemed like we didn’t have any energy today. I don’t think it explains it completely.”

Chris Finn, Ryan Hurley and Rob Pannell all scored three goals for the Big Red (13-3), who advanced to the title game for the first time since 1988 and will face second-seeded Syracuse (15-2) in Monday’s final.

Virginia (15-3) absorbed the worst margin of defeat for a No. 1 seed since Maryland bounced Loyola 19-8 in the 1998 semifinals. Perhaps it was fortunate for the Cavaliers a crowd of only 36,594 - the smallest for a semifinal or final since the event was moved to pro stadiums in 2003 and a decrease of 24 percent from last year - gathered to watch the pummeling.

Cornell, which lost the teams’ meeting in Charlottesville in March, provided a clinical display of breaking down an athletic yet flawed defense. The Big Red exuded the same deliberateness that the Cavaliers used to pile up 37 goals in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, poking and prodding before finally uncovering a weakness.

It was a rough day for goalie Adam Ghitelman (five saves), but much of his struggles came from the slick looks the Big Red were afforded. Pannell was especially dangerous, efficiently scoring and feeding to slam a flustered Virginia defense.

The Big Red scored the first three goals, affording them the opportunity to play the methodical pace they prefer while also pushing the tempo in advantageous situations. It also applied pressure to Virginia, which rushed its offense and eventually wore down on defense.

“We could stop the first play and maybe even the second one, but they just had the patience to keep moving the ball around until our defense couldn’t keep up, and it kind of broke down after they had all those long possessions throughout the game,” senior long pole Mike Timms said.

Still, this was Virginia, and a rally seemed possible when it trailed 8-2 at halftime and was essentially playing without midfielder Rhamel Bratton (strained hamstring). Even at 11-5 early in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers still had a chance - especially when Danny Glading darted around the cage for a goal with 11:05 to play. But he was ruled in the crease, and Cornell scampered downfield and received a goal from David Lau 25 seconds later to effectively finish things off.

“That was a play that possibly could have gotten us back into it,” defensive midfielder Max Pomper said. “That was very tough play for us. In a game like that, you can’t point to a play and consider it an end-all, be-all. They just pushed the play to us and played a better game than we did.”

In turn, one of the program’s most wrenching six-month stretches came to a close with a thud. Will Barrow, a senior on last year’s team, died from an apparent suicide in November to jolt the Cavaliers. They won their first 12 games before sputtering in a pair of April losses to Duke, only to play two of their best games of the season this month.

Ultimately, Virginia limped out of the tournament with its worst blowout tournament loss since 1988 - a 17-6 drilling also against Cornell - to provide one last surprising twist to an unpredictable season.

“I never had this vision,” Starsia said. “Everything occurs to me. Every indication was we were ready to play, and this wasn’t a picture I was prepared to see. It’s a hard way for this season to end. It’s a great bunch of kids, and they’ve been through a lot. I hate for it to end for them like this.”

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