FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — About halfway through the third quarter Saturday, Maryland men's lacrosse midfielder Tim Rotanz ran through Duke attackman Justin Guterding, in front of the Terps bench. Then, the fifth-year senior advanced the ball into Maryland's offensive zone, aiming to provide a spark non-existent for the Terps through the first 18 minutes.
After surveying the field, Rotanz looked toward midfielder Bubba Fairman, positioned on the right side of the crease. Fairman fielded Rotanz's pass and fired a strike that landed beyond Blue Devils goalkeeper Danny Fowler and brought the Terps — who once trailed by six goals — to within one score.
Maryland's sideline jumped and ran onto the field, eager to celebrate with the freshman goal-scorer.
In their 13-8 loss to No. 4-seeded Duke at Gillette Stadium, the top-seeded Terps struggled to limit the Blue Devils' attack. However, Maryland's youth — some playing on college lacrosse's biggest stage for the first time — fueled its production, providing coach John Tillman with glimpses of how the team's offense can produce next year without senior midfielder Connor Kelly.
"This program is in great hands, obviously," Kelly said. The past couple years speak for themselves. … It stems from the team and from top to bottom, starting with [goalkeeper] Dan Morris and ending on the attack, so I can't thank them enough for such a great journey."
Before Maryland's first tournament game, Tillman said he told his less experienced players to approach the postseason matchups as they would any other. Still, as the Terps prepared for their fifth straight trip to the final four, the veteran coach knew Fairman and his first-year teammates lacked the experience players like Kelly and Rotanz possessed. Tillman was concerned how they'd react to the spotlight.
Maryland's inexperience was revealed early. In its final game of the season, the team failed to score in the first quarter — the first time it was kept off the board in the opening period all season. And with each Blue Devil score, especially as Duke opened the second quarter on a two-goal spurt, Maryland's offseason grew nearer. But then, the Terps without much tournament experience stepped up to help keep their team's championship aspirations alive.
It started with sophomore Jared Bernhardt, who with about 12 minutes remaining before the intermission scored Maryland's first goal. Redshirt freshman Anthony DeMaio, whose role increased as the season progressed, recorded a goal less than a minute later.
Fellow redshirt freshman Logan Wisnauskas scored two of the final four goals in the half, sending Maryland into the break trailing by three for the second time in three weeks.
"When you get to this time of year, it's really just about making the next play, and when you play a team like Maryland, you're not going to hold them down for an entire game," Fowler said. "So obviously they made their run, but I think we did a really good job, and the offense did a good job of possessing the ball."
Maryland's run continued in the third quarter, starting with Kelly's first and only goal of the game. Fairman's score followed, briefly providing the Terps with momentum.
But Maryland's defense couldn't stymie the Blue Devils attack, which scored twice more later in the quarter to put the game out of reach, overshadowing the Terps' comeback efforts. Bernhardt and Wisnauskas each scored twice in the game to pace the offense.
After his college career ended in defeat, Kelly was the only player who remained in his jersey as he addressed reporters. With tears in his eyes, he glanced around the room and then at Tillman and defenseman Curtis Corley, seemingly aware of the program's potential following his imminent departure.
"This is the best program to be a part of, for any high school players, middle school players," Kelly said. "Maryland sets the standard for what it is to play college lacrosse."