With 3:25 on the clock in overtime of the 2016 NCAA Championship, then-sophomore Connor Kelly fired a shot in the midsection of Tar Heels goalie Brian Balkam on the extra man opportunity. The fear of that shot being the last opportunity for Maryland to end its 41-year title drought came true moments later.
Huge OT man-down save by Brian Balkam pic.twitter.com/X4cRmQNThc
— Lacrosse Film Room (@LaxFilmRoom) May 30, 2016
Attackman Chris Cloutier finished the game off with his fifth goal on a similar EMO with 1:39 remaining in OT. The Terrapin lacrosse title drought lived on, but not for long.
Kelly and Maryland came back with a vengeance last season, winning the first championship since 1975. Kelly, coming off the most prolific goal-scoring season for a midfielder in Maryland’s illustrious history, now sports the meaningful No. 1 jersey and balanced out his game to become one of the best passing midfielders in the nation.
“As a competitor I think about that shot, I always think about my failures,” Kelly said before the season. “I use that as motivation to succeed in life.”
Now, the last two national champions faceoff in the fifth annual Pacific Coast Lax Shootout as the No. 2 Terps (6-1) take on the No. 20 North Carolina Tar Heels (6-3) in yet another installment of a rivalry that has only heated up since Maryland left the ACC in 2015.
Since joining the Big Ten, Maryland has gone 4-1 against the Tar Heels, including a revenge game statement 15-7 victory in Chapel Hill last season.
In the 2016 regular season matchup, Kelly had what to that point was his most impressive game as a Terp, posting a then-career high six points in the 11-8 win in College Park. The matchup before that, Kelly scored his first career hat trick in the 2015 semifinals after scoring two goals in the previous 16 games as a freshman.
Aside from Kelly loving to score against North Carolina, North Carolina’s senior attackman Chris Cloutier also knows a thing or two on how to score goals. Cloutier and Kelly both reached the 100th-goal milestone recently. Besides Cloutier, Tanner Cook, Timmy Kelly and William Perry make up the bulk of the offensive production.
However, the Tar Heels as a whole come into the game on a downward slide. After starting the season 6-0 with a marquee win over Johns Hopkins, UNC has lost its last three games against No. 5 Denver, No. 19 Hofstra and unranked Richmond.
Despite their recent struggles, the Tar Heels always seem to play up to its competition as well as getting hot before the tournament. In a rebuilding year last season, North Carolina still found its way into the tournament before getting ousted by Albany.
A 10-day rest was much needed for the Tar Heels following those two bad losses, as their next five games are against top-15 teams.
This will also be the second time Maryland will play North Carolina in the Pacific Coast Shootout, and the third time participating in the westward event in the past four years. The California-based event is designed to showcase the nation’s best lacrosse teams in an effort to grow the game westward.
“North Carolina is one of the best brands and programs historically in college lacrosse,” Tillman said. “So to play a team like them anywhere is important, but man to get out there and play the 2016 national champions is a great experience for us, but maybe [this game is] what kickstarts a [young fan’s] interest.”
While the Terps lost their last Pacific Coast Shootout game to Notre Dame in 2016, Joe LoCassio’s five goals powered Maryland past an undefeated North Carolina 10-8 in 2015.
The game will be played at Orange Coast College’s LeBard Stadium in Costa Mesa, California at 10 p.m. EST, and can be streamed live on Youtube.
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