EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — With the lead in hand, the Terps needed one more quality possession to close out the game.
The ball found Logan Wisnauskas, who ripped a late goal, his fourth of the game and one that put him atop the record books.
Wisnauskas’ last goal of the game was the 203rd of his career, passing Jared Bernhardt for most all-time in a career at Maryland.
Despite some uncharacteristic rough patches throughout and a physical display from Princeton, No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse punched its ticket back to the championship game Saturday, taking down the Tigers in the Final Four, 13-8.
“Excited to advance, have a couple more days with the guys,” head coach John Tillman said. “Happy to be moving on, not our best per se, but I think you gotta give Princeton a lot of credit to that. Our older guys seemed to step up when we needed them and I thought Logan [McNaney] was terrific in the goal.”
With the start time pushed from 2:30 p.m. to 6:28 p.m. due to a rain delay that began at halftime of the first semifinal matchup between Cornell and Rutgers, both Maryland and Princeton returned to the team hotels to wait out the weather.
A once jam-packed crowd thinned, but plenty of fans stuck around for the final six quarters of the semifinals. When the first game finished and the second finally began, the Terps started to roll.
Keegan Khan opened things up with a wraparound goal on the right side of the cage, sneaking the ball past Erik Peters after being stuffed on his first shot attempt. Luke Crimmins evened the score at one a possession later, but Khan was just getting started.
The former Villanova Wildcat produced back-to-back goals, getting the better of Peters in the first frame. Second on the team in points and assists, Khan put Maryland ahead 3-1 with less than 10 minutes gone in the first quarter.
“Really just wanted to come out and play as hard as I could, I thought our offensive flow at the start was awesome,” Khan said. “I was just in good spots, took advantage of it.”
While Khan was getting on the board early and often, McNaney was keeping Princeton’s offense quiet. The Terps keeper logged six saves in the first quarter, stonewalling a Tigers offense that found a handful of open chances early.
While Princeton struggled to get anything going, Maryland feasted.
After Kyle Long added more insurance to the Terps early advantage, Bubba Fairman followed suit. The Maryland defender picked a Tigers pass out of the air and turned upfield. Sprinting wide open down the field, Fairman loaded up and when no slide came, fired past Peters for a goal.
“Bubba’s done a great job for us,” Ajax Zappitello said. “He has the offensive background. Everytime we’re able to run and get that transition, we always want to do that.”
Christian Ronda finally stopped the bleeding for the Tigers to start the second quarter. But again, the success didn’t last. Multiple sound defensive possessions by the Terps kept a Princeton run from forming.
Wisnauskas and Jonathan Donville both chipped in scores in the second quarter, but after Donville put Maryland up 7-2 with 7:45 to play until halftime, the Terps wouldn’t score another first half goal.
Coulter Mackesy added his first goal of the game to try to chip away at the lead, and he got some help to close the half.
A three-minute non-releasable penalty for an illegal body check on John Geppert opened the door back up for Princeton. With the luxury of an extra man the rest of the way in the second quarter, Chris Brown wasted no time ripping a shot past McNaney.
Princeton held onto the ball to start the third quarter with possession and at the break, Maryland led 7-4.
The Tigers came out of the break with the ball, and another penalty on Maryland — pushing by Jack McDonald — prolonged Princeton’s chances to cut the lead down even more. Despite time and opportunity, the Tigers couldn’t convert any chances into the back of the net.
“We talked about that at halftime, if we could kill that [penalty] that would be a huge momentum swing,” Tillman said. “As much as it was, stopping them, [it was also] kill as much time, so that we could get it killed. I felt like we were kind of fighting an uphill battle the whole time.”
Finally, Maryland came to life.
Four goals in less than five minutes helped the Terps break things open to start the third quarter. Wisnauskas started the run, finding himself wide open on the crease, and converting after a quick pass from Donville.
Jack Brennan scored his first goal of the game on the run a little while later. Owen Murphy then ripped a goal, using a hitch to get free. He scored again, just seven seconds later as Wierman won a clean face-off and found Murphy on the break.
What once felt like a slim lead for a Maryland team leading the nation in scoring was now a much more comfortable 11-4 advantage. Princeton got a pair back to close the third, as the Terps headed into the final 15 minutes with a five-goal lead.
Each side added two goals in the last frame, but when the final buzzer sounded, Maryland prevailed, ending the Tigers season.
Wierman, who boasted a .665 face-off winning percentage coming into the game finished 13-of-22 on faceoffs, while McNaney collected a career-high 19 total saves. Wisnauskas led all scorers with his four goals, while Khan added three goals and Murphy chipped in two for the Terps.
Defensively, Zappitello caused four turnovers and scooped up a pair of ground balls, while Makar added two ground balls of his own.
With the win, the Terps have returned to the final game of the season, with a chance to atone for last year’s heartbreaking loss to Virginia. Reshaped after losing Tewaaraton winner Jared Bernhardt, Maryland has blazed through its competition week-by-week, with just one more win separating them from becoming champions.
“We just need to be the best versions of ourselves, and I think our guys have a sense of that,” Tillman said. “Right now, it’s just a matter of in the next 36 hours or so, what can we do to put our best foot forward.”
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