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Terps outlast Denver and return to title game

The combined faceoff effort for Austin Henningsen and Jon Garino Jr. (pictured) at the faceoff X neutralized Denver’s greatest threat, Trevor Baptiste. Denver still won the battle, but only barely with Maryland taking 10 of 21 faceoffs in the game.

Special Contribution to So Much Sports Baltimore
By: Kathryn Leeber

Last week Austin Henningsen out-dueled the second-best faceoff specialists in the country as the Terps rolled over the Albany Great Danes to get back to Championship Weekend. In the semifinals, the challenge only got tougher with Trevor Baptiste, the nation’s best man at the X lining up across from him.

And Henningsen was once again up for the incredible challenge and managed to basically split the faceoffs throughout the game. Jon Garino Jr. also contributed to the success at the X.

Without Baptiste killing it from the center of the field as he normally does, Maryland was able to showcase their two-way ability as they grinded out a 9-8 victory to return to Monday’s Championship game.

“It goes without saying, I’m really proud of our guys and excited to continue this journey on until Monday,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said. “[Denver was] well prepared today and that game could have gone anybody’s way.”

But it went Maryland’s way as they were able to neutralize the Pioneer’s greatest asset in Baptiste. He still won the faceoff battle purely based on the percentages, taking 11-of-21, but the nearly even split helped keep Denver’s defense on their toes more and kept the Terps defense from having to start out right away every single time. He was an astounding 21-for-22 against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.

Henningsen, though, went 7-for-15 from the X and Garino helped Maryland mix things up later in the game and went 3-for-6 from the X.

“I thought Austin was really on the whistle early, and then got a couple,” Tillman said. “Then psychologically I think that was really helpful for us because everybody kept talking about how good he (Baptiste) is, and he is all that.”

Both teams had excellent chances to take the lead in the game, but Maryland controlled the first half and never lost their lead. Denver did mount a comeback, but ultimately Maryland stayed ahead because of three goals from Connor Kelly.

An early goal from Colin Heacock gave Maryland the first goal of the game in the second minute of the game. Colton Jackson was able to hit a response goal with the 30-second clock on, but that was their only score in the first quarter.

Connor Kelly notched a hat trick against Denver to lead Maryland’s offense in the victory.

Matt Rambo was able to give Maryland the lead back just a minute later and Maryland never dropped the lead after that. Rambo’s goal with 9:41 left in the first quarter also made history. It was his 154th career goal, finally making him the program’s all-time leader in scorer, surpassing Joe Walter (’06) on the list. With and assists in the second quarter, Rambo upped his NCAA Tournament points total to 60, which is also the most all-time.

Rambo assisted Dylan Maltz early in the second quarter, but right between those two scores was a goal by Connor Kelly.

All together that made it three straight for Maryland to push them out to a 4-1 lead. Maryland was not only outscoring Denver, but they actually outdrew them in the first quarter and more than doubled their ground balls in the first quarter, holding a 10-4 edge.

Denver finally ended their 16-minute scoring drought midway through the second quarter after a faceoff victory set up Nate Marano for a goal. Denver had a chance to close the scoring gap off a breakaway, but the shot went right to Terps goalkeeper Dan Morris. Just a minute later, though, Marano scored his second consecutive goal to make it a 4-3 game with 3:59 left in the first half.

With time winding down before halftime it appeared that the teams would have just one goal separating them at halftime, but Maryland was able to pass the ball around enough in the last two minutes to create an opening in front of Denver goalkeeper Alex Ready. Heacock’s second goal of the day to double their lead to 5-3 at halftime.

Denver did make an attempt late in the first half, but they would have to wait until the start of the second half to close the lead a bit. Connor Donahue scored on a dive at the goal inside the first 90 seconds of the second half, but even that great play did not give Denver enough energy to get a tying goal.

Instead, Tim Rotanz scored very quickly after to give the Terps some breathing room with a 6-4 lead. Maryland held the majority of the possession in the third period, but still, they weren’t able to pull away either. They had to wait nearly six minutes before Maltz scored his second goal of the game after finding an opening at the side of the goalkeeper to keep the Terps ahead with some cushion.

And it was needed because Denver retaliated with a running shot from Joe Reid, their first goal in just over 10 minutes. Then Connor Cannizzaro added another goal right after to make it a one-point game.

Cannizzaro’s goal extended his point streak to 58 consecutive games, which was the longest streak in the NCAA. But while the former starter at Maryland in 2014, who transferred to Denver and developed into a three-time All-American, extended his points streak, he was held very quiet with only the one goal on four shots in the game.

Fresh off being named the USILA Defensive Player of the Year, Terps defenseman Tim Muller was issued the challenge of slowing Cannizaro, a battle he certainly won.

“[I] didn’t try to do anything out of the ordinary,” Muller said. “Just played our basic Maryland defense, fundamental, relied on the rest of the teammates to slide when I needed to, and slide to him when he had a match-up on someone else.”

And without Cannizaro rolling, Maryland did not let those two goals get to them. Instead, Kelly sent a rocket to the back of the net and put Maryland back up by two at 8-6 by the end of the third quarter.

But Denver did equalize late in the long battle with two goals just 95 seconds apart. After Baptiste finally earned his 10th faceoff victory in the fourth quarter, marking the 52nd time he’s reached double-digit faceoff wins in his career, Ethan Walker scored another goal for Denver. After another faceoff win, he scored another goal to tie the game at 8-8.

Kelly refused to give the Pioneers an opportunity to take the lead. He scored his third goal of the game with 8:41 left to put Maryland back ahead 9-8.

“They’ve got a great defense,” Kelly said. “We have a lot of respect for them. They’ve got a lot of lanky guys that can get out to your hands. … I thought our scout did an unbelievable job just throughout the week giving us prep. That’s what we based everything off is our scout guys. Credit to those guys, but I thought we had a great game plan going in.”

And that goal by Kelly proved to be the game-winner, but it was not without drama or controversy. Maryland controlled the final portion of the game. They went to the goal with less than 90 seconds left and Heacock put the ball in the net but had it waved off as his toe was ruled to be on the crease line.

That gave Denver one final opportunity to tie the game and Donahue dove towards the goal and scored, but he too had his wave off as he landed inside the crease.

Maryland was able to hold on for the final 9-8 victory. They will go to their straight NCAA tournament championship game, where they will meet Ohio State for a third time this season after the Buckeyes rallied back to edge Towson in their semifinal game. The opening faceoff at Gillette Stadium for the rubber match on Monday is scheduled for 1 pm.

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So Much Sports Baltimore is one of the leading providers of college sports coverage in Baltimore, dedicated to telling the stories of both men's and women's programs, while also providing commentary for Ravens, Orioles and just about everything else. So Much Sports Baltimore was started in 2012 by Corey Johns upon his graduation from UMBC. Hard work, dedication, and not very much sleep have helped him built it to what it's become and continues to grow to be. So Much Sports Baltimore is a part of national So Much Sports network.

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