BALTIMORE — As the clock ticked down in their 9-5 victory over No. 2 Duke, the 10th-ranked Maryland men’s lacrosse team not surprisingly rushed the field in celebration. The jubilant players did not congregate, however, in the typical celebratory spot of midfield, but rather at their own defensive goal—an appropriate location considering the nature of the game.
Third-seeded Maryland (8-5, 3-2 in the ACC) shut down top-seed Duke’s high-octane offense to claim their second-straight ACC Championship in Baltimore Sunday. The Terrapins, who beat second-seeded Virginia 8-7 in overtime Friday to advance to the finals, avenged a 10-8 loss to the Blue Devils in College Park March 5. Duke (14-2, 4-1) beat the No. 4 seed, North Carolina 15-11 in its semifinal matchup.
Duke was competing in its fourth ACC final in five years, but the team has not won the tournament since 2002. The Blue Devils will now wait until May 8 for NCAA Tournament selections, when they will likely receive a bid to the 12-team tourney.
Senior goalie Aaron Fenton kept the Blue Devils afloat throughout the first half with 10 saves in the first two periods. Duke, however, played more than 40 minutes without a goal, and Maryland opened up a 3-2 halftime lead with three goals in the last six minutes of the third quarter, two of which were in man-up situations resulting from Blue Devil penalties. 2004 ACC Player of the Year Joe Walters led the Terrapins with three goals and one assist.
“They beat us in every phase of the game,” Duke head coach Mike Pressler said. “We’ve played 15 games this year and this is our 16th, and we’ve brought it every game, every week, but for whatever reason today we didn’t have it.”
Duke’s offense started strong, scoring the first two goals of the game, but the attackers, which averaged nearly 14 goals per game on 35 percent shooting coming into the game, produced its lowest offensive output on a meager 13 percent shooting. Maryland goalie Harry Alford was the centerpiece of the Terrapins defensive dominance, as he finished the game with 15 saves and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“I think we just took a lot of dumb shots,” Pressler said. “Harry [Alford] was good, but it takes two to tango there. He played well, but we certainly didn’t shoot well.”
For all their offensive struggles, the Blue Devils would make one last run when, with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game, Maryland midfielder Brendan Healy dropped a routine pass, starting a Duke break the other way. Freshman Zach Greer, who struggled throughout the game and failed to score on all seven of his shots, had his shot blocked by Alford. Sophomore Matt Danowski scooped up the rebound and flipped the ball behind his head and into the top left corner of the net, cutting the Terps’ lead to three. Danowski was a rare offensive bright spot for the Blue Devils, leading the team with one goal and three assists.
The impressive goal by the 2005 ACC Player of the Year looked like it may awaken the dormant offense, but hopes of a comeback were crushed as Maryland controlled the ball for much of the next seven minutes, capped off by Terrapin attacker Maxwell Ritz picking up a deflected pass and beating Aaron Fenton to extend the Maryland lead back to four with 6:15 remaining.
“We kept getting the ball,” Maryland head coach Dave Cottle said. “It’s a hot day and teams aren’t used to playing [games] that close together, and I think the team with the ball made the other team get tired.”
The Blue Devils’ defeat followed their 15-11 semifinal victory over fourth-seeded North Carolina Friday. The win was more a relief than anything, as Duke avoided a second-half collapse. Leading 10-3 with just 16 minutes remaining in the contest, the Blue Devils defense allowed five goals over a three-minute stretch to let the Tar Heels back in the game. Fenton helped stop the bleeding with several big blocks, as the senior tied his career-high with 20 saves.
“We’ve had a lot of quality goalie performances in my day,” Pressler said after Friday’s game. “I can’t remember one better than Aaron Fenton’s, especially in the first half.”
Duke now has at least two weeks until its next matchup, as the team will either play in the NCAA first round May 14 or 15 or gain a bye to the Quarterfinals May 21 or 22.
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