Let’s be honest here. The road to the National Championship is never smooth.
From the get go here in Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field was divided by four waves of color representing the four NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse programs in attendance. Their chants and passion for those on the battlefield created an aery feeling for those about to commence in war.
These warriors have sacrificed their blood, sweat, and tears in order to make it this far, and that sheer dedication wasn’t about to change for the Final Four games. Each team was ready to leave their heart on the field in order to advance to the National Championship. It is the Final Four after all. Every ground ball matters and every mistake could come back to haunt you.
As I took in the games, I couldn’t help but notice how these young warriors understood that Lacrosse is a game of inches, always making every possession count. Those in attendance were able to witness some of the best talent the world has to offer. I doubt there’s nobody who walked away from Saturday’s games not convinced lacrosse is beautiful game.
The University of North Carolina would take on Loyola University-Maryland in a game of runs and pivotal moments. To say the Tar Heels came ready to play would be an understatement. The ball never seemed to come into the Greyhounds offensive zone for the entire 1st quarter.
Not only did UNC battle at the face-off X and for groundballs in order to create good possessions that would eventually lead to a goal. UNC came out gunning and played an extremely composed first half.
Loyola had moments where they could have changed the momentum, but a huge save from Brian Balkham off his helmet from a point blank shot may have been all that UNC needed to lead at halftime 14-5. It was a game of bounces and the ball was definitely not bouncing Loyola’s way.
Loyola couldn’t find a way to stop Chris Cloutier, who would leave the game with 9, yes 9, goals.
Cloutier’s new NCAA record for most goals in a Final Four game was detrimental for the Greyhounds, making it almost impossible for a comeback.
Although Loyola held UNC to only four goals in the second half, that still wasn’t enough for the Greyhounds to catch up on the scoreboard. The Greyhounds played their heart out and fought as hard as any team could in hopes to cut the deficit. However, their attempts proved to be unsuccessful.
UNC would advance to the Championship game after an 18-13 win. The next battle between Brown and Maryland would decide who their opponent would be.
The University of Maryland took on Brown University in front of two rowdy fan sections. This game was back and forth and, quite honestly, beautiful. \
It was physical, fast, and dramatic.
Every time it looked like one team was about to pull ahead, the other would go on a run to find the back of the net. Each team stuck with their system and they collided beautiful to create a semifinals game that will never be forgotten.
You could tell this was going to be one for the history books at halftime. It was 6-5 Maryland at the half and two “top ten” contender goals happened in the first half. One came from the stick of Bailey Tills, who beat his man at X and had a beautiful spinning backhand goal. Tills would net four on the day.
Matt Dunn had the second “SportsCenter Top 10” worthy goal as he launched one from about 70 yards out and the ball only touching the ground once before it found the back of the net. This would prove to be a very important goal as the game went on.
The dramatic first half was mirrored in the second. The game was tight the entire time and it was hard to predict who would be victorious at the final horn. Matt Rambo played a very patient and unselfish game. Rambo was constantly scanning the field and thats why he would leave the game with 5 assist. Brown was down 13-14 as the clock started to wind down in the 4th quarter.
Then senior Brendan Caputo would have a nice time and room shot that would tie it all up with 1:29 left to play in the fourth. Four quarters were not enough for these two teams. Whoever would play UNC in the Championship would be decided in overtime.
Maryland maintained possession off the draw and would move the ball around. Then with 2:40 left in OT, Matt Rambo would find Colin Heacock on the doorstep for his third of the day and the game winning goal! Maryland’s bench would rush the field as their fan section went insane knowing that their Maryland Terrapins would be moving on to play UNC for the NCAA Championship.
My Pick for the National Championship
This Championship game between UNC and Maryland is going to be unforgettable. I believe it will resemble the Maryland-Brown game a little bit because of the back and forth goal scoring we are about to witness. However, UNC had Loyola’s defense constantly guessing, sliding, and moving.
Their plan of attack is a simple draw and dump tactic, but they run it with such precision that it is hard to defend. Their offensive discipline combined with quick ball movement is hard for any defense to figure out on the fly. Maryland will need to be quick on their slides, physical on the crease, and constantly on Cloutier’s hands in order to prevent another record breaking game. Maryland has a very good system and looked great against Brown. If they stick to their system on offense, they should have no problem scoring goals. For both sides, the real struggle is going to be catering their defense to their opponents offense. This is going to be a game that pushes the limits of a players ability to adapt quickly and read plays before they happen. Judging by the games on Saturday, UNC seems to adapt quicker and really gets to know their opponent before stepping on the field. Due to this fact, I believe UNC will be walking out of Lincoln Financial Field with brand new rings.