- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2014

BALTIMORE — Tears can express a myriad of different emotions ranging from sadness to joy, but there was no mistaking those that stood in the eyes of Maryland goalie Niko Amato on Saturday afternoon.

Three times his team had made it to the NCAA lacrosse tournament semifinals and three times it failed to capture a national championship. This time around, the Terrapins didn’t even get a chance to play for it, falling 11-6 to Notre Dame.

“Coach kind of hit the nail on the head in the locker room,” Amato said. “You risk getting your heart broken to go on a great journey with this team, and the guys and I wouldn’t have traded anything in the world for these past five years.”

Maryland entered M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday as the apparent home team despite its lower seed. Terrapin fans littered the stands, giving the team a warm welcome when it stormed out of the tunnel. Unfortunately for the Terps that would be the last time they looked confident all afternoon.

“A lot of what happened today was self-inflicted,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “We turned it over eight times in the first quarter.”

Maryland was able to keep the game close throughout most of the first quarter, battling from 2-0 down to tie the game at 2-2 with 44 seconds left. Notre Dame had other plans however, scoring back-to-back goals with 16 seconds left in the quarter.

Notre Dame’s sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh had a field day with Maryland’s top-ranked defense, scoring seven points (five goals, two assists). He seemed to be all over the field, creating space for himself and his teammates both on and off the ball.

“I wasn’t really doing anything different,” Kavanagh said. “I was just on the better end of an offense that played well.”

Maryland had allowed an average of just seven goals a game coming into Saturday’s contest and Amato had just won the Kelly Award as the nation’s most outstanding goalie, but the Terps looked beleaguered and confused in the face of Notre Dame’s feverish attack.

In contrast Notre Dame’s junior goalie Conor Kelly, who averaged 10.7 goals against in contests this season, looked like a seasoned pro between the pipes. He saved 14 shots, discouraging Maryland attackers over and over.

“I saw the ball well today,” Kelly said. “I just try to go out there and do whatever my team needs me to do.”

The game looked like it was in reach for the Terps at halftime with Maryland trailing 6-4, but the Irish never really looked threatened once they had taken the lead.

As the clock wound down on the third quarter, and then on the fourth, a claustrophobic feeling crept over the stadium as the Irish scored goal after goal and the Terps were shut down time and again.

Maryland senior Mike Chanenchuk had more than one shot rocket off the pipes and Kelly simply looked like a brick wall in the Notre Dame net. Terps fans would let out a cheer only to swallow it as they realized the junior had smothered another scoring chance. Nothing seemed to go right for a Maryland team that looked desperate to make a dent in this game.

Disappointing is a fitting word for the way the 2014 season ended for the Terps. And for the seniors who watched the sun go down on their careers a short drive from their home field in College Park, a few tears needed to be shed.

Tears for the teammates they leave behind. Tears for the sport that they may never have the opportunity to play again. But most of all, tears for the title of national champion that had slipped from their hands one final time.

“I think if you have guys that have that desire and they’re good athletes and they care, you can find a way as a coach,” said Tillman. “You just need to build them up, put them in good spots and really just stay with them. And this group has been fantastic. They’ve been so unselfish. … I feel like they’ve represented our school so well on and off the field. They fought even to the end today, and I’m proud of them for that.”

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