May 18, 2014

Maryland, Notre Dame Snuff NCAA Cinderella Runs

by Patrick Stevens | | Twitter | May Madness Home

Maryland's face-off duo of Charlie Raffa and Jon Garino combined to go 17-for-27, neutralizing one of Bryant's strengths in their victory Saturday. (Lee Weissman)

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. --- Maryland looked like a longshot to make the NCAA tournament in the preseason.

Notre Dame's postseason prospects were dicey just a month ago.

Yet the net result of the weekend's first NCAA tournament quarterfinal doubleheader is that the Terrapins and Fighting Irish are headed back to a familiar place --- Memorial Day weekend --- and it has come at the expense of two of the most riveting subplots of this postseason.

Bryant coach Mike Pressler, as unabashedly candid and direct as ever he was at Duke, didn't make it back to the final weekend of the season. The Bulldogs could not duplicate the magic of a hot goalie, dominant faceoff play and a frighteningly effective zone defense that so mystified Syracuse in the first round, and out they went with a 16-8 loss to Maryland that was basically over four minutes after it started.

Also absent will be Lyle, Miles and Ty Thompson, the most entertaining trio in the sport. Lyle has the single-season NCAA points record, but it is little consolation after Albany watched a five-goal lead evaporate in the final 10 minutes of regulation before Matt Kavanagh scored the game-winner with 2:29 left in overtime as Notre Dame departed Shuart Stadium with a 14-13 victory.

It will mark the third semifinal appearance for Maryland in four years, the third in five seasons for Notre Dame. To be sure, these programs are not Johns Hopkins of the late 1970s and early 1980s or Syracuse of the 1980s and 1990s, or Princeton during Bill Tierney's heyday.

Seeing the Terps and Fighting Irish on the sport's biggest stage doesn't have the feel of inevitability. Neither has broken through to claim a national championship recently (and Notre Dame never has), but they both keep coming back, keep placing themselves in position to be heard from in the season's final hours.

In the long view, this is one of the more remarkable Maryland teams in recent memory. The seventh-seeded Terps (13-3) entered the season with uncertainties scattered throughout their offense beyond the presence of fifth-year senior Mike Chanenchuk.

Chanenchuk has done his part, both over the course of the season and especially in the tournament. In two games, he has seven goals and six assists. Not bad for a guy who was hobbling around on a bum ankle a few weeks ago.

But Maryland has found contributions from freshmen (Connor Cannizzaro and Matt Rambo), veterans who have floated in and out of the lineup (Jay Carlson) and a two-year reserve who has mustered 18 goals this season (Joe LoCascio). Cannizzaro, Carlson and LoCascio all had hat tricks to complement Chanenchuk's five-goal, four-assist day against Bryant.

Toss in a stout faceoff man (Charlie Raffa, who was Saturday's game-changer with a 14-for-20 effort at the X), a reliable goalie (Niko Amato) and a sound, veteran defense, and Maryland eventually uncovered the formula for a return to the final four.

Maybe it will be enough to end the perplexing 39-year title drought, one coach John Tillman has little interest in dwelling upon.

"Everybody realizes this is their time," Tillman said. "Whatever we did 10 years ago really had nothing to do with them. They were young guys coming up and loving the sport of lacrosse. That's really what our focus is, to embrace the tradition and try to build on it and add a new chapter."

While Maryland's uncertainty stretches back to the preseason, sixth-seeded Notre Dame (11-5) possessed higher hopes and a far more pronounced downturn in the middle of the season. The Irish sat at 6-5 entering the ACC tournament, with the possibility of finishing with a losing record and missing the postseason for the first time since 2005 a realistic possibility.

"Everybody realizes this is their time. Whatever we did 10 years ago really had nothing to do with them... That's really what our focus is, to embrace the tradition and try to build on it and add a new chapter."

-Maryland head coach John Tillman, whose team advanced to face Notre Dame at next week's final four in Baltimore where it will attempt to win the program's first NCAA title since 1975

Instead, Notre Dame rattled off one-goal defeats of Maryland, Syracuse and Army, the prior two locking up the ACC's automatic bid. A rout of Harvard followed before Saturday's fourth-quarter surge against the potent Great Danes (12-6).

In quite a few of the Irish's previous incarnations, such a rally was improbable. Notre Dame is usually built to defend, not to score, but this bunch is the first to score at least 13 goals in back-to-back NCAA tournament games in program history.

That's a substantial difference, and a reason the Irish's fourth trip to Memorial Day weekend might just lead to its elusive first national championship.

"We have scored goals, but the thing is we haven't really scored them in any one way," coach Kevin Corrigan said before rattling off Notre Dame's penchant for scoring off faceoffs, off turnovers forced on a ride, on extra man and simply transitioning quickly from defense to offense. "It's a combination of all those things, so we don't have to rely on our six-on-six."

However they've scored, they've done it enough to inch within two games of a championship. And like Maryland, which the Irish will face for the third time in 36 days on Saturday, Notre Dame has again deftly given itself a chance to wrap up May with a championship --- something that's bound to happen eventually for two programs that keep finding themselves on the Memorial Day weekend guest list.

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