BALTIMORE — The Maryland men’s lacrosse team trailed Notre Dame by two goals at halftime of an NCAA semifinal before 30,428 at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday. And in the locker room, Maryland’s plan for a comeback was compromised by the realization it would have to navigate the second half without one of its most influential players.
Junior Charlie Raffa, a second-team all-American as a faceoff specialist, reinjured his right knee late in the second quarter of an 11-6 loss.
Raffa’s injury was combined with 6-for-38 shooting, 19 turnovers and a monster performance from Notre Dame sophomore Matt Kavanagh (five goals, two assists).
Maryland entered the weekend with its men’s and women’s programs in their respective Final Fours. The men last won the title in 1975, the women in 2010. Both were playing this weekend in the location where they’d last won the title.
On the men’s side, at least, the title drought continues. Instead, it will be No. 6 Notre Dame (12-5) that plays for the title against No. 1 Duke (16-3) on Monday at 1 p.m. The Blue Devils advanced with a 15-12 victory over Denver (16-3) in the first semifinal.
Maryland (13-4) had four first-team all-Americans — its most since 1976 — and Raffa, a second-team selection.
On Saturday, three of the first-teamers struggled. Fifth-year senior Michael Chanenchuk was scoreless for the first 37-plus minutes and missed his first five shots. After a fast start, fifth-year senior Niko Amato finished with 10 saves and gave up all 11 goals.
And junior defenseman Goran Murray struggled in his one-on-one matchup with Kavanagh.
Kavanagh’s fourth goal with 7 minutes 56 seconds left in the third quarter gave the Irish an 8-4 lead and matched Maryland’s scoring output to that point.
Senior Michael Ehrhardt, the fourth first-team all-American, finished with five groundballs.
Yet it was Raffa’s injury that may have been the most problematic. The faceoff specialist was coming off a dominant performance last week against Bryant sophomore Kevin Massa, who edged him for first-team honors.
In a 16-8 victory last Saturday, Raffa won the first nine faceoffs against Massa and finished 14 for 20. But with about two minutes left in the first half against Notre Dame, Raffa reinjured his knee on a faceoff and hobbled to the sideline.
A goal by junior Jay Carlson cut Maryland’s deficit to 6-4 with 1 minute 39 seconds left in the first half. On the ensuing faceoff, Raffa again injured his knee to the extent that he crumpled to the turf during play. He made it to the sideline by using his lacrosse stick as a crutch. There, he went to the ground again before being taken to the locker room.
Raffa emerged with the team for the third quarter and, as he readied to take the faceoff, he received a respectful fist-bump from Notre Dame junior faceoff man Nick Ossello.
Raffa won the faceoff and made it to the sideline but his day was done. Raffa had won 11 of 13 faceoffs.
“I tweaked it pretty bad, and it kept getting worse and worse, to the point I couldn’t really do anything,” Raffa said. “I knew what I did right away.”
Said Maryland Coach John Tillman: “Charlie was a warrior. He wanted to go back in and felt like he could do it. But after consulting with the trainers, I wasn’t comfortable and the trainers weren’t comfortable with what we were seeing.”
Meanwhile, Maryland’s offense struggled. In an 8-7 victory over Cornell in the first round, Chanenchuk scored the winning goal with two seconds left on a play when he received a cross-field pass and fired home a shot from about 10 yards off the right wing.
Trailing 6-4 in the third quarter, Maryland ran the same play. This time, Notre Dame junior Conor Kelly made the save.
The first half against Cornell had featured an 0-for-15 shooting performance to start the game and a 5-1 halftime deficit. In the second half, Maryland countered by using Carlson for the first time.
On Saturday, such an adjustment was moot: Carlson started the game. The Terrapins appeared to find life, albeit briefly, when freshman Colin Heacock entered the game for the first time in the third quarter and his line immediately produced a goal. But the momentum didn’t last.
Instead, the day belong to Kavanagh. He scored goals in a variety of ways — coming from around the cage and shooting high; cutting toward the goal to receive a pass and to shoot and score in the same motion.
Even when Maryland’s top-ranked defense made a play, Kavanagh had a counter. Senior Brian Cooper stripped a Notre Dame player of the ball in the third quarter. Yet the loose ball went right to junior Conor Doyle, who fed Kavanagh for a goal and an 8-4 lead that wasn’t threatened.
Junior Joe LoCascio finished with two goals for Maryland.
The first semifinal pitted Denver, making its third Final Four appearance in four years, against Duke, making its eighth in a row.
The Pioneers trailed 12-11 early in the fourth quarter and had possession when sophomore Jack Bobzien made a cut to the goal and was briefly open. Senior Jeremy Noble passed to Bobzien from across the field, but Bobzien’s attempt at a quick-stick shot went wide.
By the time Denver had the ball again, it trailed 15-11. Duke scored three goals on four shots, culminating with sophomore Chad Cohan’s goal with 7:09 to play. Junior Wesley Berg finished with five goals for Denver.
Junior Kyle Keenan, in the lineup in place of injured senior Josh Dionne (49 goals), led the Blue Devils with four goals.