The Maryland men's lacrosse team won five straight games and held the No. 2 ranking before visiting Ohio State on April 22. With another victory, the Terps would have clinched a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
Instead, the Buckeyes came back from a 6-1 deficit to win, 11-10, in overtime. While Maryland's triumph over Johns Hopkins and Ohio State's loss to Rutgers the following weekend granted the Terps the regular-season conference crown, the setback in Columbus, Ohio, stuck with the players.
So, when the Terps beat the Buckeyes, 10-9, in Saturday's Big Ten conference tournament final through a pair of crucial fourth-quarter plays from attackman Colin Heacock and midfielder Jared Bernhardt, the result had added meaning.
"This was one of our goals coming into the season," midfielder Connor Kelly said. "Coming back to Ohio State and facing them in the finals was huge. You don't get second chances often in life, and this was great for us."
Until the final minutes, Saturday's tilt held similarities to Maryland's first meeting with Ohio State. In both contests, a team held a 10-9 lead late in the fourth quarter.
During the loss to the Buckeyes, Bernhardt tied the game, 10-10, near the end of the fourth period before the Terps lost on a sudden-death overtime goal. But in its championship game victory, Maryland took the 10-9 advantage through an acrobatic score from Heacock and never relinquished its lead.
Heacock missed the first showdown with the Buckeyes due to an ankle injury, and he recorded just one point through the first 56-and-a-half minutes Saturday.
But isolated behind the cage with three-and-a-half minutes remaining, Heacock drove toward the front of the net with midfielder Logan Maccani draped over him. When Maccani halted his forward momentum, Heacock swiveled his body and shot while falling to the ground.
When the go-ahead effort hit the back of the net, Heacock stood and flexed his muscles as his teammates joined him in celebration.
"Heacock is an unbelievable talent," Kelly said. "Anytime he goes to the net, you're going to need to fly to him. He had a [short-stick midfielder] on him at that point, and he just sort of bullied him."
Moments later, Bernhardt preserved Maryland's second consecutive conference tournament crown by completing a diving stick check.
With less than two minutes to go, Ohio State defender Ben Randall broke into the Terps' half searching for an equalizing goal. As he drew defenders away from a wide-open attackman stationed next to the net, the Buckeyes appeared to be in position to score.
But Bernhardt, trailing the play in a full sprint from his midfield position, dove at full extension to dislodge the ball from Randall's stick.
"[That was] just making a Terp play," coach John Tillman said. "It took that effort … to be able to get that ball back."
With its win, Maryland earned the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, as announced during Sunday night's selection show. The Terps will face the play-in game winner of Bryant and Monmouth at Maryland Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Plus, by finishing their pre-tournament slate with a narrow victory over the one conference opponent that beat them this campaign, the Terps gained valuable close-game experience.
"We knew this was going to come down [to a couple of plays]," Kelly said. "They're an unbelievable team top to bottom. One of the most complete teams that's going to make a run in the NCAA [tournament]."
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of the excerpt on this story misspelled Connor Kelly's name. This story has been updated.