Maryland fends off UNC comeback

Staff WriterMay 16, 2011 

— A blowout was unlikely when Maryland and North Carolina met Sunday in the first round of the men's lacrosse tournament.

Twice they had met this season, and twice one of these ACC squads had rallied from a four-point deficit to take a comeback victory. So when Maryland jumped to a four-goal lead, history told the Terrapins not to celebrate too soon.

As expected, eighth-seeded North Carolina rallied, but the Tar Heels never found the offense to keep pace with the Terrapins, who seized control of the third and fourth quarters and won 13-6 at Fetzer Field.

"You saw us come back from a four-goal hole," said North Carolina senior defenseman Ryan Flanagan, whose team trailed Maryland by four points on March 26 and fought back for an 11-6 win. "We felt the entire time that we had a chance to come back."

Maryland wiped away those chances with relentless lacrosse, again showcasing itself as the ACC's premier team this season - or at least the team with supreme determination and execution.

The unseeded Terps (11-4) advanced to the quarterfinal round to play top-seeded Syracuse (15-1) at noon Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. The winner will advance to a March 28 semifinal against Sunday's Duke-Notre Dame winner.

Two weeks ago, the Terps defeated the Heels 7-6 in the ACC tournament semifinals before knocking off Duke in the final to secure the school's fourth conference championship and first since 2005.

Maryland followed that euphoric win at Duke with a lethargic effort at home against Colgate. The Terps worried their coach, John Tillman, who said, "I didn't sleep much."

But there was no need to worry.

This time out, the Terps blitzed UNC (10-6), controlling faceoffs and establishing a 16-4 groundball advantage by halftime, though they led just 6-4 at halftime.

"It was tough for us to get any momentum going," UNC coach Joe Breschi said. "I think we lost the first five faceoffs. At that point, we were scrambling for possessions, opportunities to make some plays at the offensive end."

The Heels entered the second half within striking distance, but their shots were picked off masterfully by Maryland goaltender Niko Amato, who made seven of his 13 saves in the third quarter.

"We felt like we were still there at 6-4," Breschi said. "Their goalie was spectacular."

Junior Drew Snider added offensive heft for the Terps, scoring four goals on five shots. He made himself available all over the field, and attackman Ryan Young (three assists) rifled passes to him.

Snider's goal to lift the Terps to a 7-4 lead with 12 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the third served as example of his aggressive efforts. Knifing inside, he was hit on the play yet scored from the ground.

The Terps were efficient shotmakers, finishing with 13 goals on 32 shots. They closed with a 32-27 advantage in shots and 27-15 advantage on ground balls.

The Terps also won 16 of 23 faceoffs, led by sophomore Curtis Holmes (15 of 22.)

"We thought faceoffs would be huge," Fischer said. "When you get nine more possessions, it's huge. That's what's going to swing the pendulum because both teams are good."

The Terps were savvy and skilled, though also lucky.

With 1:46 on the clock in the third quarter, the Terps ran a misdirection play known as "the hidden-ball trick." Maryland seniors Grant Catalino and Brian Farrell faked an exchanged on the outside, cradling their sticks and drawing UNC's defense toward its sideline. It looked as though they were leaving the field for a timeout.

Meanwhile, Farrell slyly carried the ball to the middle of the field and dished to Snider 10 feet off the goal. It was a fake that duped both sidelines and the announced crowd of 1,812.

"I think it was a little bit of luck on our side for one," Snider said. "I saw Farrell. I thought he was going to shoot it, so I went down to kind of get out of his way, create a shooting lane for him. Then I realized I was wide open."

Tillman said he did not call the play. He credited his seniors.

"I'm going to give those guys points for creativity and confidence and making the play," Tillman said. "I'm glad it worked. If it didn't, I'd be really upset."

UNC eventually saw its comeback efforts dashed, even as senior Bill Bitter scored three goals for the Heels - his 16th career hat trick.

"It's disappointing for it to end this way," Breschi said. "These [nine] seniors have meant so much for the program."

robinson@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4781

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