PHILADELPHIA — The recognition of what they just did and the sweet reality that they had one more game to play was loud and clear as the 50 members of the Maryland men’s lacrosse team walked into their locker room after a 12-6 win over Virginia late Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.

“Gotta finish!” senior long-stick midfielder Jack McDonald yelled.

“Keep doubting us!” screamed a few others, wearing black jerseys drenched in sweat because of the late-afternoon heat and the previous two-plus hours.

Scattered primal sounds followed as the Terps gathered to celebrate in the visiting locker room at the home of the NFL’s Eagles, until Maryland defenseman Ajax Zappitello caught up to his teammates, sparking a unified crescendo that echoed in the tunnels beneath the seats of the football stadium.

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Maryland (11-5) is going back to the national championship game, and for some on this team — seeded seventh in the 17-team tournament — it will be their third title game appearance in four years.

The postseason experience showed Saturday. So did the game planning of John Tillman, who will bring the Terps into the season’s final game for the eighth time since he took over as coach in 2011.

Terps graduate student Luke Wierman, the program’s all-time faceoff wins leader, won 15 of 22 draws in a game-defining performance that helped Maryland play to its preferred six-on-six pace against a Virginia team known for its aggressive defense and full-field ride.

Maryland mostly neutralized both those features, unlike in a 14-10 regular-season loss to Virginia in March in College Park.

“The guys followed the plan. It was all about get to six on six, get to six on six, get to six on six,” Tillman said, referring to a design of keeping the typically frenetic Cavaliers from getting extra-man opportunities in transition and keeping the Terps’ best short-stick defenders on the field. Taking care of the ball on offense helped, too.

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“Luke did a tremendous job getting us possessions,” Tillman said. “Then we were able to capitalize on some of those, whereas a week ago [in a quarterfinal win over Duke], we had so many turnovers. We were better. We weren’t great, but we were better.”

Senior attacker Daniel Kelly (Calvert Hall) scored three first-half goals, and senior midfielder Jack Koras (Loyola Blakefield) had a goal and an assist 26 seconds apart early in the third quarter as the Terps dominated possession.

Maryland will face a stiff challenge in defending champion and top-seeded Notre Dame (15-1), a winner over Denver in Saturday’s other semifinal, in the national championship game at 1 p.m. Monday.

“They’ve been the best team all year,” Tillman said of the Irish, “and they were the best team last year.”

If they play like they did Saturday, the Terps might have a chance.

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“The game plan is to stick to his game plan,” Wierman said, sitting beside Tillman at a press conference table.

“And then go to Chipotle or Maggiano’s,” Tillman cracked about the fast-casual Mexican chain and a restaurant in Philadelphia’s Little Italy. (The Terps also had Italian ahead of their NCAA quarterfinal win over Duke.)

“Yeah, but they’re a hot team,” Wierman said of Notre Dame. “They have a lot of great players, All-Americans scattered throughout the roster. [But] we trust each other. That trust goes a long way.”

Wierman won nine of the game’s first 10 faceoffs to tilt possessions in Maryland’s favor, and eight Terps scored. Kelly led all goal scorers, and attackman Eric Spanos finished with two goals and three assists.

Virginia sophomore Kyle Morris (Gilman) made his first NCAA tournament start — after relieving three-year starter Matthew Nunes in the first quarter of the Cavaliers’ quarterfinal win over third-seeded Johns Hopkins. He finished three quarters with five saves. Nunes replaced Morris at the start of the fourth, with Virginia trailing by seven.

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Wierman won the game’s opening faceoff and went straight to the goal for a shot. Morris stopped it at close range and, less than a minute later, Connor Shellenberger beat Zappitello for a highlight-worthy first goal for Virginia.

Maryland settled in on defense, made good on enough possessions and dropped back on the ride when it didn’t convert to build a lead it never relinquished. That was despite being outshot 15-11 in the first quarter.

“Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the possession today,” Virginia coach Lars Tiffany said. “In the first half, it was really lopsided. We were generating shots, but we just weren’t putting it on cage, and we played too much defense as it went on.”

The Terps defense created early offensive chances, forcing four first-quarter turnovers. Kelly finished a nice transition feed from sophomore long-stick AJ Larkin (Loyola Blakefield) to give the Terps a 2-1 lead at the 4:18 mark of the first quarter.

Kelly added his second goal with 3:04 left in the third, beating Morris low from the right wing, off a Braden Erksa pass. Six seconds later, Wierman won a draw and went straight to the goal again — and this time converted from 10 yards past Morris’ low off side, sending the Terps’ sideline into a frenzy.

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Kelly completed his early hat trick with a finish of a pretty Spanos feed on Morris’ doorstep to make it 6-2 with 8:52 before half.

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Virginia freshman McCabe Millon (McDonogh) beat long-stick midfielder Will Schaller with a question-mark dodge that cut the Maryland lead to 6-3, but Millon — who tied Virginia’s freshman record for goals with the score — was relatively quiet otherwise.

After Millon’s first of two goals, Virginia reserve faceoff man Thomas Colucci, who came on in relief of Navy transfer Anthony Ghobriel and Mitchell Whalen, followed with a rare win. He finished 7-for-15. (Tiffany said Virginia’s top two faceoff takers will be having surgery to repair undisclosed injuries.)

Virginia’s 10-man ride then forced a failed clear, and the Cavs (12-6) briefly showed signs of their aggressive identity, but Maryland quickly halted any thoughts of a run. Junior defenseman Colin Burlace (St. Mary’s) picked up a loose ball near midfield and fired in a long pole goal in transition — only his second score of the season — to give the Terps a four-goal lead heading into halftime.

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“I was just in the right place at the right time,” said Burlace, who on Monday will face a Notre Dame team that includes his brothers, BJ and Gavin, a grad student defender and freshman midfielder for the Irish, respectively. “But credit goes to [midfielder] Colin Sharkey, who allowed me to pick the ball for a clean four-vs.-three. That was awesome.”

The Terps came out firing in the second half, thanks to two quick faceoffs wins by Wierman, and built a seven-goal lead that proved insurmountable. Burlace assisted on a Spanos goal to make it 11-4 with 3:27 left.

“They’re a team that excels in the uneven, five-on-five situations, and that’s what they look for,” Burlace said. “A lot of it was Coach Tillman implementing a new ride that helped us get them to six on six. As soon as we were able to do that, we were able to find more success.”

Maryland goalie Logan McNaney needed to make only eight saves (three in the fourth quarter), and the Terps limited off-ball chances for Virginia grad student attackman Payton Cormier, the career goals leader in NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse. He had one fourth-quarter score.

Shellenberger, one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, given after the season to the game’s top player, was largely held in check by Zappitello — the recently named Outstanding Player of the Year by college coaches — and the Terps defense.

This was Maryland and Virginia’s fourth meeting in the last five NCAA tournaments and first since 2022, when the Terps ousted the Cavaliers 18-9 in the quarterfinals during an 18-0 season with a national title. Virginia beat Maryland 17-16 for the 2021 title.

The Terps will try for the fifth NCAA championship in program history, and the third under Tillman since 2017, in the school’s 16th NCAA men’s title game appearance.

“We’re going to have to put a lot of time in over the next two days to try to get ready,” Tillman said. “We’ll try to put together a plan. We got to figure out what we can do to put ourselves in the best position to win.”

Notre Dame pulls away from Denver

In Saturday’s first semifinal, brothers Pat and Chris Kavanagh had hat tricks and Will Lynch won 18 of 23 faceoffs in Notre Dame’s 13-6 win over fifth-seeded Denver.

Junior midfielder Mic Kelly (Calvert Hall) had an assist on a Denver goal that cut the Irish lead to 5-4 just before halftime, but Notre Dame outscored the Pioneers 8-2 from there.

With Lynch winning faceoffs, the Irish put together a three-goal spurt in 62 seconds early in the fourth quarter, and a beautiful behind-the-back Pat Kavanagh goal, assisted by his brother, gave the Irish a seven-goal lead with 2:56 left.

Junior midfielder Will Angrick (Georgetown Prep) chipped in an assist for Notre Dame on its first goal of the game from Chris Kavanagh.

Denver finished 13-4, while the Irish will play on Memorial Day for the second straight year.

Rematch set for women’s championship

In the women’s semifinals on Friday in Cary, North Carolina, top-ranked Northwestern beat unseeded Florida 15-11 and second-seeded Boston College outlasted third-seeded Syracuse 12-11 in overtime to set up a rematch of last year’s national title game on Sunday.

Junior defender Sammy White (Dulaney) had four draw controls for the Wildcats (18-2), who will seek back-to-to-back national championships. They Wildcats downed Boston College 18-6 for the title last year.

Florida senior Maggi Hall (Bel Air) had five goals, sophomore defender Theresa Bragg (Severna Park) forced four turnovers, and sophomore goalie Elyse Finnelle (Southern) made eight saves.

Corey McLaughlin is a veteran writer and editor who has covered sports in Baltimore for a decade, including for Baltimore magazine, USA Lacrosse Magazine and several other publications.

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