The Maryland men’s lacrosse team had strategized for Cornell senior Rob Pannell, the leading scorer in Ivy League history, entering their NCAA tournament first-round meeting Sunday at Byrd Stadium.
Yet Pannell had an answer for everything Maryland tried in Cornell’s 16-8 victory before 2,739.
The sixth-seeded Terrapins (10-4) fell short in their attempt for their first NCAA title since 1975 after advancing to the title game the past two years. The unseeded Big Red (13-3) moved on largely because of Pannell’s performance.
In the first half, Pannell was guarded by sophomore Goran Murray and had two goals and two assists. In the second half he was guarded by senior Jesse Bernhardt, an all-American longstick midfielder, and had two goals and one assist.
“He’s a great player, and I think we have to give him his due,” Maryland Coach John Tillman said. “We kind of went back and forth. We had a number of different plans.”
Pannell could have had an even bigger day. He had an assist on an apparent goal by sophomore John Hogan late in the second quarter that was disallowed after Hogan stepped in the crease before shooting.
Pannell also threw three passes to wide-open teammates standing feet from the crease. One teammate dropped the pass for a turnover, one bobbled the pass and didn’t take a shot and a third had a point-blank shot saved by junior goalie Niko Amato.
The Terrapins trailed 9-6 late in the third quarter when Pannell got a step on Bernhardt, drew a double-team from freshman longstick Matt Dunn and dove and scored on a back-handed scoop shot from seven yards as a third Maryland defender arrived an instant too late.
The goal was the first in a 7-1 run that finished the Terrapins.
“Sometimes I definitely catch myself watching in awe for some of the things he does and some of the plays he makes,” Cornell Coach Ben DeLuca said of Pannell.
Senior Steve Mock added four goals for Cornell. Bernhardt finished with one goal, nine groundballs and five caused turnovers for the Terrapins. But Maryland’s starting midfield scored only four goals on 23 shots (17 percent).
Like Maryland, Cornell has a long NCAA title drought — it last won the title in 1977.
It can take some solace from Maryland’s past two trips to the NCAA title game, both of which came as an unseeded team. Cornell even replicated one of Maryland’s impromptu “mosh pit” sideline celebrations following the opening goal from sophomore Matt Donovan on its first possession.
Maryland’s decision to move Bernhardt from midfield to guard Pannell in the second half was a give-and-take scenario.
Bernhardt, a standout high school football player in his native Florida, is considered one of the toughest athletes in the sport. But he also is Maryland’s best option on the wing on faceoffs and in guarding the opposing team’s best midfielder.
With Bernhardt guarding an attackman, Cornell got three goals from midfielders and won eight of the first 11 faceoffs in the second half.
Cornell clearly fed off Pannell, one of the team’s 16 seniors.
“You don’t really know that feeling of it possibly being your last game until it’s actually here,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of seniors who don’t really say much step up this week and say some words to the team.”
Maryland’s seniors, meantime, finished their careers with two NCAA title game appearances and an ACC tournament championship.
Next year’s team is expected to have back Amato, all three starting defensemen and two starters on offense.
For now, though, it will be hard for Maryland to get away from lacrosse entirely — the NCAA quarterfinals are at Byrd Stadium on Saturday. Cornell will play No. 3 Ohio State (13-3), a 16-6 winner over Towson on Sunday.
“The past couple years we’ve been fortunate to make it as far as we did, and going out like this is not a good feeling,” Bernhardt said. “Coach mentioned this, but in no way does today define our class. . . . Like Coach said, ‘Once a Terp, always a Terp.’ ”