- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 28, 2011

BALTIMORE — Maryland rolled into halftime of its NCAA semifinal with a three-goal edge over Duke. Still, the Terrapins’ senior-laden close defense wasn’t in a forgiving mood when asked to rate its performance.

“D,” Brett Schmidt replied in a brief-yet-blunt assessment.

In the second half, though, Maryland earned high marks and a chance to play one last game.

The unseeded Terps physically manhandled Duke en route to a 9-4 victory before 45,039 at M&T Bank Stadium, clinching the program’s first Memorial Day appearance since 1998.

“We have so much pride that nothing’s ever good enough for us,” defenseman Ryder Bohlander said. “We knew we could do a lot better than we did, and we were ready to go out in that second half and prove it.”

Maryland (13-4) will meet seventh-seeded Virginia (12-5) in Monday’s title game.

True to their identity, the Terps continued their chase for their first championship since 1975 with their defense defining a crucial victory.

Duke (14-6) rolled into the semifinals coming off its lowest offensive output since February, but it was an understandable blip after a 7-5 encounter with methodical Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. Maryland, though, was able to silence the Blue Devils to a greater degree.

The Blue Devils’ starting six on offense were a combined 3-for-20. The starting attack of Zach Howell, Christian Walsh and Jordan Wolf — which averaged nearly five goals and 2.5 assists per game — was limited to just two goals.

“The guys have been buying into the system,” defensive coordinator Kevin Warne said. “When it works, it works. When it doesn’t, we don’t win games. It’s pretty simple. We try not to overcomplicate it, and we make it simple for the guys.”

Still, there was no way to coach the Terps out of the inevitable nerves associated with the program’s first semifinal appearance since 2006.

Early, it was goalie Niko Amato (13 saves) who provided the necessary serenity. He stuffed Wolf less than five minutes in, then denied Howell as the first quarter concluded to preserve Maryland’s 2-1 edge.

“We patted him on the back and said, ‘Unreal, man, you bailed us out. It was great, but from here on out, we’ve got you,’” Bohlander said. “Every single one of us, we get sick when we see our goalie put in that position where he has to make a save like that.”

Amato didn’t face much danger the rest of the night. Instead, Maryland spread its lead to 5-2 by the break before Duke pared its deficit to two goals in the third quarter.

The situation was tenuous at best for the Terps, who were a misstep away from permitting the Blue Devils to truly close in. Instead, Amato made a save toward the end of a Duke extra-man opportunity, with midfielder Dan Burns collecting the groundball and single-handedly clearing it.

Burns then found Grant Catalino, who beat Dan Wigrizer in transition to make it 6-3.

“That was kind of the play that defined the second half, the hustle play that says, ‘We’re not going down without a fight — we’re here to stay,’” defenseman Max Schmidt said.

The defense never permitted it again. Duke, already tagged with a pair of scoreless stretches of more than 16 and 15 minutes, respectively, found itself wallowing in another drought. Goals from Owen Blye and Joe Cummings in the fourth quarter padded the Terps’ lead, and Catalino exploited an extended Duke defense to make it 9-3 with 3:17 left.

Maryland fans soon scampered to the exits to celebrate a victory forged at the defensive end.

“One of the things we wanted to do is get to Duke’s hands when we slid or when we tried to disrupt their offense,” coach John Tillman said. “They move so quickly that if you don’t get to them, they are very dangerous.”

It was yet another virtuoso defensive performance for Maryland, which has yielded 15 goals in three tournament games. Opponents are shooting just 19.5 percent in the postseason, and no Blue Devil managed more than a point.

“We don’t want anybody to get theirs,” Bohlander said.

Duke didn’t — and Maryland made the grade as a result.

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