Virginia's Steele Stanwick picks up a loose ball in the… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
With this weekend's Final Four being played in Baltimore, it was only fitting that some local products had big outings in Saturday's semifinals.
Maryland's Dan Burns (Severna Park), Curtis Holmes (McDonogh), Joe Cummings (Loyola), Brian Farrell (Boys' Latin) and Kevin Cooper (Archbishop Spalding) were all instrumental in the Terps' five-goal victory over Duke. Burns and Farrell were key in midfield defense, Cummings and Cooper combined to score three goals, and Holmes dominated on faceoffs, winning 11 of 17 draws while also adding a goal of his own.
But perhaps the best performance of the day belonged to Steele Stanwick (Loyola), who notched five points and led Virginia to a dominant six-goal victory over Denver.
"I'm thrilled to be back in Baltimore," Stanwick said. "To play well and get the win means the world to me."
Growth of the sport
Even though Saturday's semifinal matchups were played in the traditional lacrosse hotbed of Baltimore, the four teams participating featured many players from outside of the sport's typical breeding grounds of Maryland and New York.
Players like Virginia's Rob Emery (San Francisco), Denver's Eric Law (Centennial, Colo.) and Maryland's Drew Snider (Seattle) and Jake and Jesse Bernhardt (Longwood, Fla.) are representative of the sport's growth in recent years.
Emery recorded two points for the Cavaliers and Law scored two goals and notched three assists for the Pioneers in the first semifinal, while Snider (one goal) and Jake Bernhardt combined for 10 shots for the Terps in the second game of the day. Jesse Bernhardt, a long pole, came up big on defense with three ground balls and played a pivotal role in the Terps' clearing game.
Denver's appearance in the Final Four is also indicative of lacrosse's expansion in recent years, as the Pioneers became the first team west of the Mississippi to advance to the semifinals.
A Cavalier attack
With three of its starting midfielders — Colin Briggs, Shamel Bratton and Rhamel Bratton — not playing due to off-the-field issues, Virginia turned to its talented and deep group of attackmen to fill in the scoring void.
Paced by Stanwick, who scored three goals and dished out two assists, the Cavaliers used five natural attackmen on offense — Stanwick, Matt White, Chris Bocklet, Nick O'Reilly and Mark Cockerton. The unit combined to record 17 points off 11 goals and six assists. O'Reilly and Cockerton ran primarily from the midfield with Stanwick, White and Bocklet playing down low.
"We've been dodging a lot at X. We've been playing a lot of two-man games," Bocklet said when asked what the Cavaliers changed since losing the midfielders. "We're clicking as a team and playing team ball."
Denver's defense couldn't find an answer for the five attackmen, who accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Cavaliers' scoring.
"Their team is different than they've been since the Bratton thing," Denver coach Bill Tierney said. "Stanwick gets more touches now. And when the best player gets more touches, more things happen for your team. I think they were a transformed team."
With Virginia defeating Denver, 14-8, and Maryland beating Duke, 9-4, Monday's championship game will be an ACC-only affair.
The last time two ACC teams faced off in the Division I championship was 1986, when North Carolina defeated Virginia in overtime, 10-9.
The ACC also boasted three of its four teams in the semifinals, and the other — North Carolina — was beaten by the Terps in the tournament's first round.
"It's a tough conference, and I've been in some good ones," said Maryland coach John Tillman, who has also coached in the Patriot and Ivy Leagues. "Not only are they talented, but they're well coached. And at all of those schools, lacrosse is really important."