May 24, 2014

Hobbled Raffa Gives All In Maryland Semifinal Loss

by Paul Krome | | Twitter | May Madness Home

Maryland's Charlie Raffa won all but two of his 13 attempts at the X for Maryland before having to bow out early in the second half due to injuries. (Bill Danielewski)

BALTIMORE – Maryland junior midfielder Charlie Raffa limped through the postgame handshake line, got an extra touch from 2012 U.S. U19 teammate Matt Kavanagh and a hug from faceoff combatant Nick Ossello, then gingerly made the long walk to the opposite corner of M&T Bank Stadium to enter the tunnel nearly last among his Terrapin teammates.

Defeat to Notre Dame seemed inevitable once the Fighting Irish took a 6-3 lead midway through their NCAA semifinal and third meeting of the year, and Raffa could only watch from the sideline as Notre Dame gradually extended its lead until the 11-6 final score. But his injury-shortened performance only added to his status as perhaps the game's best faceoff man today.

Raffa, who's battled various injuries throughout his playing career, reinjured his right knee in the first quarter, but still won 11 of 13 draws before hobbling off the field for good after the first faceoff in the third quarter (which he won).

"For me, I haven't had an athlete like him, that I've ever coached," said Ryan Moran, associate head coach at Maryland. "He's a really gritty competitor, just as tough as nails. One of the stronger kids I've ever coached, and his mentality to never want to come off and to fight is just impressive. Combine that with athleticism, real technical skill and a real toughness, and you've got the best faceoff man in the country, I think."

Raffa, an All-ACC selection, replicated previous performances against Notre Dame's faceoff duo of senior Liam O'Connor and Ossello. Raffa won 20 of 24 in a 12-8 win at Notre Dame on April 19 that gave the Terps the ACC regular-season championship. He followed that up with 10 of 13 in a 6-5 loss to the Irish six days later in the conference tournament semifinals. What was also replicated, however, was an injury that forced him to miss games against Michigan and Robert Morris.

"I don't remember what faceoff it was, but it was pretty early in the game that I hurt it again," Raffa said. "After that, it was a downward spiral."

For all to see was Raffa's inability to put pressure on his right leg, leaving him to alter between limping and hopping off the field after draws. With just over one minute left in the first half, he barely made it to the penalty box before needing to sit. Somehow, he took the first faceoff in the second half.

"[That one] felt the same. It hurt pretty bad, so they wouldn't let me take any more faceoffs after that," Raffa said.

"He's a warrior," said Maryland sophomore faceoff midfielder Jon Garino, Raffa's primary relief this season who won 4 of 8 against Notre Dame. "He did a great job fighting through his pain. Everybody's rallied around him all year. Even when he hasn't played, he's given me pointers and tips on the sideline."

Garino similarly spelled Raffa in last week's 16-8 quarterfinal win over Bryant, and Garino battled talented Bulldog Kevin Massa to nearly a stalemate through the final quarter-plus of action. A season of daily draws against Raffa likely aided in Garino's performance in their season finale.

Raffa gingerly walked through a somber Terrapin locker room and expressed remorse at his team's inability to get it done today. But like any great warrior, he earned considerable respect from his adversaries; hence Ossello seeking Raffa out after the handshake line had passed.

"He came over to ask how I was feeling and tell me I did a great job," Raffa said. "He's a great athlete and a great person, obviously. He didn't have to do that. I don't know him on a personal level. I'm happy he came over to me. It meant a lot, not even knowing the kid. That shows a lot of class on the part of their program."

Notre Dame did not make Ossello available for postgame interviews, but his actions spoke volumes about Raffa's heroic effort in defeat.

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