In what seemed like insurmountable odds, the No. 16 seed Robert Morris was going for the improbable upset bid over the top-seeded Terps on Sunday afternoon.
Under the current postseason format, which has been in place since 2003, No. 1 seeds are a perfect 15-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Head coach John Tillman has lost only one first round game (against a Rob Pannell-led Cornell in 2013) since taking over in 2011, and has more postseason wins (19) than any other coach during that span.
Robert Morris was trying to overcome all of that without their best player, junior goalie Alex Heger. Heger lead the team to a postseason play with outstanding goalie play all season, holding the nation’s second highest save percentage. Heger’s replacement sophomore goalie Chris Reynolds made seven stops.
The Colonials stretched out to a 6-3 lead heading into halftime in what surely could have been a larger lead, outshooting the Terps by 12 in the first half. Through imposing defensive double teams and dominating the possession, the Colonials kept Maryland’s offensive weapons at bay.
“They were exactly what we expected,” Tillman said. “A really tough team, athletic and skilled, competitive and tough and it took everything we had to get a really big win.”
However, a 6-1 third quarter spurt from the Terps retook control of the game. The newly shortlisted Tewaaraton Award finalist, senior midfielder Connor Kelly, scored four goals to put him over the 75-point milestone, while senior goalie Dan Morris matched his season high of 13 saves.
“I think we were poised, we’re a calm and collected group,” Kelly said. “I just think we had to bring it together and work on each other, offensively and defensively.”
After senior midfielder Adam DiMillo opened the scoring on a wild transition scramble, the Colonials took over the quarter offensively, terrorizing their short stick defensive matchups on all three goals.
Redshirt junior attackman Jimmy Perkins, junior midfielder Shane Majewski and junior attackman Eddie Smith all took advantage of the short stick matchups.
Perkins then got the second quarter started in a similar fashion, getting past an over-zealous junior defenseman Curtis Corley with the Colonials’ third inside roll dodge and score of the game.
In junior long stick defensive midfielder Nick Brozowksi’s absence, senior Michael Adler stepped up and delivered an assist to Kelly to end the 11 minute-scoring drought.
Otherwise, the Terps offense played sloppy and out of sorts all half, committing seven costly turnovers. Freshman midfielder Bubba Fairman took matters into his own hands with a left-handed shot on the run to cut the lead to 4-3.
The Colonials answered with two goals in a span of six seconds to give them all the momentum heading into halftime. Redshirt junior attackman Matt Schmidt scored moments before senior LSM Mitchell Wales fired in transition off the ensuing faceoff.
“We just couldn’t get the ball to get much rhythm,” Tillman said. “We had three shots in the first quarter, and I bet we played 12 minutes of defense.”
Maryland was outshot 22-10 in that first half, with Morris making 11 key stops to keep the Terps within striking distance, trailing 6-3 in what could have been a far steeper deficit.
“They have a really good team, they have a lot of box [lacrosse] guys who have really good stick skills,” Morris said. “I think they were just moving the ball around and they have some really good dodgers, and they were kind of just getting to spots and getting shots off. My defense did a really good job of responding in the second half.”
There were numerous shot clock calls throughout the game, especially called when the Colonials wanted to slow the game down if they weren’t getting any easy transition looks.
Halftime helped the Terps regroup however, as the offense ramped it up to score four unanswered goals within the first four minutes of the second half. Short stick defensive middie Roman Puglise got the scoring run started with a trailing time and room shot in transition for his first career goal – at quite a necessary time.
“It was a lot of things coming together, but first and foremost you look at the faceoff X in the second half and we just got so many more possessions, it created some opportunities and all of the sudden we got momentum,” Tillman said.
Kelly then scored back-to-back goals off great dodges from Fairman and redshirt freshman midfielder Anthony DeMaio. DeMaio, who came into the game with three assists through 15 games, rattled off three straight helpers to Kelly, sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt and senior midfielder Colin Giblin.
“I think it was a credit to my teammates,” DeMaio said. “They did a really good job of getting open and we were communicating a lot better to get on the same page.”
The Colonials initially answered Bernhardt’s sneaky backside goal through Schmidt’s second goal of the game. In response, Kelly then came around the right side of the crease and scored a jumpshot with six seconds remaining in the third. Maryland outscored Robert Morris 6-1 in that third frame.
Senior midfielder Carter Yepsen fired in a rocket from outside to cut the Terrapin lead to 9-8. Bernhardt assisted redshirt senior Tim Rotanz before the two switched roles as Bernhardt scored on a well-timed cut from great ball movement.
Then, it was a back-and-forth affair, as both teams traded goals for the remainder of the contest. Every time the Colonials tried to comeback, the Terps answered with goals of their own.
Senior midfielder Sean Doyle scored in transition off a Terrapin turnover, assisted by sophomore attackman Zach Lynch. Fariman’s highlight-reel finalizer made his defender trip over the goal from behind before scoring coming around the left side of goal line extended.
AND WE’LL SEE YA.
Bubba sheds his defender behind the cage and finds the back of the net!
— Maryland Lacrosse (@TerpsMLax) May 13, 2018
Perkins juked out a stranded Morris behind the net and scored an open-net backhander before Rotanz scored unassisted as the shot clock was winding down to stretch the lead to three-goals once again. Fairman came around the left side of the crease and finished above Reynolds’ shoulder to make it 14-10 with 3:46 remaining.
Colonials senior attackman Adrian Torok-Orban scored a consolation man-up goal with 56 seconds left, but it was too little too late.
Maryland will take on the winner of Syracuse and Cornell in Annapolis next Sunday in the NCAA quarterfinal round.
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