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Faceoffs going to be key in title game

Charlie Raffa is one of the best faceoff specialists in the country but will have his hands full with Trevor Baptiste, the best faceoff specialists in the country.

Charlie Raffa is one of the best faceoff specialists in the country but will have his hands full with Trevor Baptiste, the best faceoff specialists in the country.

Lacrosse is a simple game: if you have the ball, you control the game.

Monday’s championship game between No. 4-seed Denver and No. 6-seed Maryland will be decided by which team does a better job of gaining possession.

Denver features the best faceoff man in the nation in freshman Trevor Baptiste. The first-team All-American leads the country in faceoff winning percentage at nearly 69-percent. Baptiste has won 44 more faceoffs than the next closest player, and is the catalyst of Denver’s top-five scoring offense.

The Terps’ answer to Baptiste is senior Charlie Raffa. A second-team All-American a season ago, Raffa has battled injuries in the 2015 campaign but is hard to stop when healthy. He managed to earn an Honorable Mention in this year’s All-American voting, despite playing in just 13 of his team’s 18 contests.

Raffa said he won’t change his game plan to stop Baptiste.

“It’s more me working on myself and then seeing how I, with my moves, can counteract him,” Raffa said.

The matchup between Baptiste and Raffa will set the tone for the championship, and the faceoff margin could be the deciding factor in this affair.

“It’s an intriguing matchup,” said Denver coach Bill Tierney. “You know the face-off guys, they’ve got all sorts of things going on. Their moves, the counter to their moves, the wing play, the no-wing play and all those things.”

Possessions will be so crucial because of the skill of these offenses. Denver averages nearly 14 goals per game, good for fifth in the country. And Maryland, who boasts the nation’s top scoring defense, has an underrated offense that has recently caught fire. The Terps have scored 26 goals in their past two games, including a season-high 14 in a quarterfinal win over North Carolina. The Terps have become more aggressive, and it has paid dividends.

“If we can get great opportunities right off the get-go, we will take them,” said Maryland coach John Tillman. “I tell our kids all the time, we’ll take 100 shots as long as they’re good quality shots. And we’ll take five-second possessions if they’re good shots.”

Denver will counter this fast-paced attack with a methodical, deliberate style of play. They will move the ball to create open looks for top scorers Connor Cannizzaro and Wesley Berg, both in the top twelve in goals per game. Cannizzaro transferred from Maryland this season, after earning ACC Freshman of the Year in 2014. He leads the Pioneers with 56 goals.

“We just know Connor is a very dynamic player and their whole offense is extremely dynamic,” said defenseman Matt Dunn.

Cannizzaro still has ties to Maryland, but Monday will be all business.

“I definitely have friends on Maryland and would like to see them succeed,” Cannizzaro said. “But at the same time, I want to win this thing.”

The Terps are looking to end a 40-year championship drought. This will be the first finals appearance for Denver.

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Corey Johns

Editor in Chief
You could say Corey was born to become a sports journalist. His father won a national championship coaching college soccer. His mother is a baseball fanatic who hasn't missed seeing an Orioles game since 1983 (literally, sometimes it's annoying). His great uncle was a big-time boxing promoter and his maternal grandfather was once a department head at the Baltimore Sun. Basically, sports and journalism run through his blood. He played just about every little league sports there was when he was a kid and was a multi-sport athlete in high school; even playing in the first-ever high school sanction Rugby game in the country. Eventually he retired from sports as an undefeated Maryland state Rugby champion as a high school senior. Perhaps lack of athletic talent has more to do with the retirement, but he will tell you that it more had to do with a great desire to jump right into media. Upon his graduation from University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a triple communications major, Corey started the So Much Sports network and has continued to grow his websites and continues to work to make them premier sports media outlets.

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