Terps add a transfer of graduates to a key location

Heading into the 2023 season, the Maryland men’s lacrosse team had to replace over 300 combined points from senior graduates and fall injuries. A solid defense, a FOGO All-American and a guard All-American had to carry the charge until an offense with new starters could find an identity. Injuries then ravaged the defence. Logan McNaney injured his knee in the second game of the season. Ajax Zappitello injured his hand in the last match of the regular season. John Geppert battled a leg injury all season and couldn’t run at full speed for most of the playoff season.

Still, the Terps entered the NCAA playoffs as the fourth national seed and hosted the Patriot League Army champion at SECU Stadium on Saturday night. The revamped attack scored 15 goals, returned the ball to a season-low seven times and produced one of its best shooting performances of the season. The defense, however, faltered, as Army pulled off a 16-15 upset against the Terps. The loss marks only the second time a team coached by John Tillman in Maryland has failed to advance to the first round.

The main difference between the teams showed up in the goal. Army senior Knox Dent, playing with an injured knee that will require surgery this offseason, played spectacularly. He made 16 saves, including several of an otherworldly variety and finished with a 52% save percentage. At the other end of the field, Terrapin freshman goaltender Brian Ruppel, who planned to wear a redshirt this season before McNaney’s injury, made just five saves with a save percentage of 24. %. His last stop, ironically, ended up being expensive.

Army quickly took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter and forced Tillman to use a timeout to stabilize his team. Luke Wierman (18-35, 1g, 1a, 11gb) won the fifth faceoff of the game and ran into the center of the Black Knights defense. He beat High Dent to get the Terps on the scoreboard at 3-1.

Army responded before Jack Koras (1g) hit a low shot past Dent on a backhand to pull Terps back to a 4-2 deficit. The Black Knights, however, exploded for a three-goal run to end the first quarter with a 7-2 lead.

Just when it looked like the Black Knights might deliver a first-quarter TKO, the Terps sealed a 5-0 run to tie the game at 7-7.

Braden Erksa (4g, 1a) scored on a solo dodge behind the goal. Wierman won the ensuing faceoff and gave Erksa on the wing for an eight-yard back shot. Ryan Siracusa (1g, 1a) got under his defender and beat Dent with a high shot. Kyle Long (3a) found Daniel Maltz (2g) alone in the crease on an extra man opportunity. Erksa would find Eric Spanos (2g) for a back goal, and with that the Terps were back in the game.

Army would extend their lead to 8-7 on an outside shot, but Zach Whittier (1g) responded with a fine finish after Syracuse found him heading for goal.

As they had done throughout the second half of the season, the Terrapins’ second midfielder had given a spark to the attack. The line – Siracusa, Spanos and Whitter – would combine for four goals and one assist on the day. With the game tied at 8-8 before halftime, the Terps looked set to finally retire from the army.

However, the second half started the same way as the first. Army would score on a shot across Ruppel’s face for a 9-8 lead. Spanos would level the game at 9-9 on a solo dodge behind goal. He drove through his defender’s stick, sending the stick flying away from the defender, and he beat Dent with a low shot.

Army would pick up two in quick succession from their little-used secondary scorers, as Ruppel repeatedly struggled with shooters moving into his face, even from a distance.

Maltz would once again take the Terps to an 11-10 deficit on the extra man. Owen Murphy (2a) found Maltz curling in the high crease, and Maltz beat Dent with a low shot. Brett Makar (1g, 2ct, 1gb) then scored a juice goal to tie the game at 11.

Makar jumped on an Army midfielder who missed a pass – one of 17 Army turnovers in the game – and ran down the field. With Army refusing to slide towards Makar, Makar faked a pass to the post and fired a high shot past Dent. Two minutes later, Long found Erksa curling. Erksa fought against stick control and fired a low kick past Dent to give the Terps their first lead of the day at 12-11. The Terps finally seemed to be on the move.

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Little-used short-stick defenseman Garrett Gibbons then scored what looked like a huge momentum goal on a clearance. Gibbons grabbed the ball near the substitution zone and ran into the middle of the Army defense. As the army defenders rushed and did not slide towards Gibbons, Gibbons fired a low shot that beat Dent. After Gibbons fired the ball, he was controlled and slid on his knees towards the crease; but the ball had already entered the net. When Gibbons extended his leg to stand up and celebrate what would have been his first goal of the season, his foot touched the goalie’s inside crease; and the referees wiped the goal literally seconds after the ball hit the back of the net.

This call was to prove decisive.

With Ruppel struggling to see the ball and often guessing shots, Army scored two quick goals to open the fourth quarter and regain the lead at 13-12. Daniel Kelly (2g), who had been silent the whole game, tied the game at 13 on a long feed. But Army would respond again on a further opportunity where the Terps miscommunicated and left a shooter wide open just eight yards in front of goal.

Erksa would tie the game at 14 with 5:08 remaining in the game. He grabbed a rebound from another save from Dent and beat it high. The Black Knights would score the next two goals, one on another defensive miscommunication and the other on an empty net.

That empty-net goal was preceded by Ruppel’s fifth and final save of the game. With 1:14 remaining in the game, the Terps looked set to force an Army clock violation. Army kicked the ball towards the net with just one second left on the shot clock, and as the ball appeared to be heading away from goal, Ruppel pulled out his stick and clipped the ball.

With the shot clock reset and Ruppel out of goal pressing to force a turnover, Army pocketed their 16e and final goal of the match. Wierman won the ensuing faceoff and Tillman called timeout. On a nice set piece, Murphy found Kelly for an open shot to put the Terps back to a 16-15 deficit with just 53 seconds left in the game.

Wierman again won the next faceoff, and Tillman used his final timeout. After the reset, Erksa beat his man on top of the goal. He prepared to fire a shot behind Dent, but a slipping defender put a stick on Erksa and forced the shot to sail high. The Terps couldn’t get another shot on goal in the final 24 seconds of the game, and Army kicked the ball down the court as time expired on the game and the Terps’ season.

The rebuilding year that saw highs like Virginia’s loss on the road and lows like Michigan’s demolition of the Terps in the Big Ten Championship is ending sooner than Terps fans are used to. Under Tillman, Terrapin fans are booking their trip for Memorial Day weekend early in the season. This is the standard for the program under Tillman.

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