Maryland's seniors are again headed to championship weekend in the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament, and the top-seeded Terps hope the fourth time works out better than the first three.
''You get experience from being there, but each year is different because your team is different,'' Maryland coach John Tillman said. ''We certainly have put ourselves in a position at times to get to (championship) Monday but haven't quite finished.''
Two years after losing to Denver in the national championship game, the teams will meet again on Saturday in the national semifinals at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Maryland (14-3), which hasn't won the title in 42 years, is coming off a dominant 18-9 quarterfinal victory over No. 8 University at Albany, while No. 5 Denver (13-3) trounced fourth-seeded Notre Dame 16-4.
Saturday's other semifinal matches unseeded Towson (12-4) against third-seeded Ohio State (15-4). The championship is Monday afternoon.
Maryland also lost the title game last year, falling to North Carolina in overtime. At least there's a motive of payback this time, but it promises to be a tall task because of Denver faceoff ace Trevor Baptiste . Pioneers coach Bill Tierney, who's won a record seven national championships, calls the junior the best at the position he's ever seen in his more than three decades as a head coach, and the stats back him up.
Baptiste leads the nation in success at the important X, winning 75.7 percent of the time. In last week's victory over Notre Dame, he won 21 straight draws for his 16th career game with at least 20 wins at the X, and six of those have come in the past nine games.
''He's a handful. We thought the guy last week was very good, and Trevor is on a level of his own,'' Tillman said. ''We're going to have to do a great job there, with our wings try to get those guys involved if we can.''
Maryland has a point of reference. The Terps dominated Albany last week, holding the nation's highest-scoring team to a season-low goal total, and they did it by besting the second-ranked faceoff guy in the country. After Albany freshman TD Ierlan won the first five draws against Austin Henningsen, senior Jon Garino Jr. took over, won 12 of 14, and the Terps quickly built an insurmountable lead as they dominated possession time.
Dealing with the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Baptiste is another matter.
''He has seen it all, guys tackling him, grabbing him, grabbing his stick, hooking on his arm,'' Tierney said. ''I'm assuming we'll see something a little bit new this week. What Garino has is (Chris) Mattes as his coach - he's the best in the business as far as college faceoff coaching goes.''
Maryland also has the firepower of Matt Rambo, one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, given annually to the nation's best player. Rambo (40 goals, 43 assists) has notched eight points in each of the last two playoff games and is tied for the all-time lead in school history with 153 career goals.
''The guy can dodge, he can shoot, he can feed, he can ride, he's a great kid,'' Tierney said. ''There's nothing this guy can't do.''
Sixth-year coach Shawn Nadelen has Towson on the rise. The Tigers, who rank third nationally in defense (7.44 goals allowed per game) defeated second-seeded Syracuse 10-7 to earn their first semifinal berth since 2001 and first victory over the Orange since 1973.
Towson scored six goals in the first period against the aggressive Orange, three in man-up situations, and its defense locked down one of the best 1-2 offensive punches in the nation as goalie Matt Hoy had a career-high 12 saves. Syracuse stars Nick Mariano and Sergio Salcido were held to one goal and one assist combined.
Ohio State beat Duke 16-11 behind five goals and two assists from Eric Fannell to advance to its first national semifinal. And Towson knows all about the Buckeyes, having lost to them 6-3 in in mid-March.
''I feel like when you have played a team in the regular season and you get to see them in the postseason it helps. Both teams get the benefit from that,'' Nadelen said. ''The fact that we lost and played a miserable game in miserable conditions, we let one slip away. It should be motivation for our guys.''
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