When the NCAA Lacrosse tournament field of 16 is announced in May, Rutgers will likely be holding its breath once again. Barely missing the NCAA tournament and having its bubble burst has unfortunately been too common for Rutgers the past few years. Too often, it has been Rutgers inability to win the big game that has placed Rutgers on the outside looking in. With the loss to Johns Hopkins earlier in the season, and today at # 1 Maryland, now Rutgers most likely needs to win out the regular season and win a game in the Big Ten Tournament to make the NCAA’s this season.
While asking the Scarlet Knights to win against the #1 team in the nation is certainly a tall order, it was on the table for the team today in a game Maryland was almost trying to give away, as Rutgers stormed back after trailing by four goals early.
However, like the Hopkins loss two weeks ago, a lack of execution down the stretch doomed Coach Brecht’s crew, and sent the Scarlet Knights to their 2nd conference loss of the season, and fourth loss overall of the campaign
It looked like it was going to be a long day early on when Maryland scored the game’s first goal. This was particularly tough to take for Rutgers after having an early man-up goal by Christian Mazzone waived off by the official.
As the first quarter drew to a close, Maryland was in command with the 4-0 lead and it appeared like the Knights might be on the receiving end of a blowout loss.
However, RU would battle back.
The Knights opened their account when Kieran Mullins found the twine from the side of the cage, and Rutgers had a bit of life.
However, the Terps answered back to regain their 4 goal advantage early in the second quarter, leading 5-1.
Rutgers however, got a boost from Joe Francisco who had a stretch of winning 8 of 10 faceoffs. Rutgers embarked on a 4 goal run to even the score at 5 at half time.
The two teams played an even third quarter, and entered the 4th tied at 8. Early in the 4th, the Knights got a goal from Casey Rose to take the lead, and had Rutgers fans dreaming off the biggest upset in school history.
Up to this point, the biggest upset wins for RU had been knocking off the no. 3 ranked team in the nation twice - once in 2017 when the Scarlet Knights took down Ohio State, and in 2003 when Rutgers defeated UMass.
However, as has been the case for Rutgers too often in these games, the moment was too big.
The rest of the 4th quarter was marred by Rutgers mistakes, and Maryland made R.U. pay for its transgressions.
Attempting to hang on to the slimmest of leads, Rutgers rode the goalkeeping of Max Edelmann while giving the ball away too easily. Maryland would eventually tie the score, and find 2 more goals in an 80-second span to go up 11-9 with just 3:29 left.
RU got some hope when Tommy Coyne scored in transition, a goal reminiscent of the one he tallied to bring Rutgers within a goal of Johns Hopkins a few weeks ago in a similar position.
However, just like the Hopkins game, Rutgers never found the equalizer. Panicky possessions, poor shot choices, and turnovers allowed the Terrapins to run out the clock, and RU fell short once again in a game against the Big Ten’s elite.
Christian Mazzone led Rutgers with 3 goals on the afternoon and Jule Heningburg added four points (2 goals, 2 assists). Goalie Max Edelmann had his fifth straight game with double digit saves, making 11 in the loss. Joe Francisco won 15 of 23 faceoffs and had six ground balls.
Making the NCAA lax tournament is a tough proposition. It is only a 16-team field and you are not only battling your opponents on the field, but their reputations off the field as well. Rutgers has already in the past seen opponents they had beaten on the field and with worse records make the field of 16 while Rutgers was left holding the proverbial bag. For a program like Coach Brecht’s, you have to bust down the door to get into the dance. A win today would have gone a long way to busting down that door.
There is still hope, as Rutgers (8-4; 1-2) hosts #14 Penn State (8-4; 2-1) at home next Sunday night, before finishing the regular season at Ohio State (6-6; 1-2) the following weekend. The schedule that Rutgers has played this season is stronger than last year for sure. The NCAA Lacrosse committee released their own rankings yesterday and listed Rutgers at #10. Their signature win is over #4 Syracuse and they now own losses to two of the top three teams in the rankings, both by one goal.
However, the margin for error moving forward appears to now be zero.