Playing in their first Final Four, the UMass Minutemen knocked off the Maryland Terrapins 8-5, in a hard fought, defensive game. All-American Sean Morris (3,1) lead his UMass squad past the perennial powerhouse Terps to advance the Minutemen to their first ever Memorial Day game.
The Minutemen defense played aggressively, extending out and pressuring the ball, while still be close enough at the core to make it very difficult for the Terps to work inside.
“We wanted to turn up the heat on defense,” Jack Reid, UMass’ All-American defenseman, said after the game, “make them make quick decisions.”
After Maryland goalie Harry Alford and UMass keeper Doc Schneider exchanged good saves to start, Xander Ritz put the Terps on the board first as he rushed from behind the cage, wrapped around the post, and bounced in a shot. Jim Connolly evened the score for UMass, putting in a goal that was almost a clone of Ritz’s. Alford quickly reasserted himself in cage though, stuffing a cutting Pat Larmon.
UMass took the first lead of the game, at 2-1. All-American attackamn Sean Morris fed Rory Pedrick for a pretty behind the back goal. Maryland tied after Alford made a huge save on Brian Jacovina. In the subsequent rush up field Ryan Lang hit LSM Ryan Clarke who ripped in a bouncer from just inside the box.
The Minutemen grabbed the lead at the beginning of the second and never looked back. Morris dodged down the wing, switched hands, and bounced in the goal, 3-2. Neither team could find much offensive rhythm for much of the second quarter. The game took a slightly more violent tone as every loose ball became a real scrum, and every player that tried to penetrate to the crease paid a tough price for it. After exchanging a few shots, a few saves, and a few blows, the half ended with UMass up, 3-2.
Maryland started the third with a flurry of quick shots, but Schneider stood tall. UMass would crack the net though, as Morris put another bouncer past Alford. After some sloppy transition play by both teams, UMass quickly padded their lead with back-to-back goals, five seconds apart, tying a tourney record for fastest consecutive goals by a team. First, Jacovina tucked in the rebound of a Morris shot. Then, on the ensuing faceoff, Jake Deane won the ball cleanly, carried it in, never got picked up, fired a shot, followed it, and put in his own rebound with the longpole. The quarter ended with the Minutemen holding a four-goal edge, 6-2.
Maryland’s offense looked frustrated. They could not expose the pressure of the UMass D; they couldn’t get shots on cage; the shots that were on cage Schneider ate up. The Terps finally scored again as Michael Phipps caught a cross-cage pass, ducked inside, threw a few dip and dunks, and finally popped the ball past Schneider. The goal broke an almost 33 minute scoreless streak for Maryland.
The Terps looked to be fighting back and rattling Schneider as Max Ritz drove right at the cage and plugged a shot. But a dropped pass by Walters turned into UMass answering right back. Clay Stabert drew a defender and dumped to Connolly who finished.
Maryland tallied their finally goal of the game when Max Ritz found Dan Groot sitting off the pipe. Groot slid a shot right under Schneider to make it 7-5. The Terps came close to making it 7-6, as Healy ripped a shot that rattled the crossbar. Again UMass had the answer. Morris got his hat trick when he drove right at the post, got under his defender, and flicked a shot over Alford.
The Maryland defense actually looked better than they played. Alford came up with some big stops, including one at the end of the fourth where he dove across the cage to thwart the goal. Holding a team to eight is solid, but not when a rock solid Minutemen defense held the Terps to five.
“You’re not going to win scoring five goals in a semifinal game,” said Maryland coach Dave Cottle. “We just didn’t get it done on the offensive end of the field, which never gave us a chance to get settled in the game….We just never made a play on the offensive end of the field when it mattered.”
The Minutemen may provide an interesting element to the championship game. They are a gritty, tough team. Their strengths on defense will be tested against a loaded Virginia team. The wildcard factor of UMass even being involved this late in the year makes them a dangerous opponent, even if the Minutemen aren’t surprised about still playing.
“This group has really fought all year, so I’m not surprised,” said Greg Cannella about his team’s date with destiny Monday. His players seem ready to go. As Reid said, “There’s no place I’d rather be.”
|Xander Ritz||(1, 1)|
|Maxwell Ritz||(1, 0)|
|Michael Phipps||(1, 0)|
|Daniel Groot||(1, 0)|
|Ryan Clarke||(1, 0)|
|Ryan Lang||(0, 1)|
|Harry Alford||10 (0.556)|