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Faceoff specialist Charlie Raffa plays pivotal role in Maryland's title hopes

Maryland's Charlie Raffa (7) catches the ball as

Maryland's Charlie Raffa (7) catches the ball as John Hopkins' Hunter Moreland defends during the second half of a semifinal match in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament, Saturday, May 23, 2015, Philadelphia. Credit: AP / Rich Schultz

PHILADELPHIA - Maryland midfielder Charlie Raffa has no problem staring down his opponent at the faceoff circle, decisively placing his stick on the ground and letting the battle for the hard rubber ball begin.

But when it comes to discussing his health with Maryland coach John Tillman or the media, the former St. Anthony's star is not quite so direct.

"Charlie's tough because every time I ask him that question, he gives me the typical vague young guy answer, which includes, 'OK, not bad, pretty good,' '' Tillman said after the Terrapins' gritty 12-11 victory over Johns Hopkins in Saturday's semifinal. "I have to start asking him for numbers, like 1 to 10, how do you feel? That's just Charlie."

Raffa, who missed five regular-season games and remains bothered by nagging right arm and shoulder injuries, was playful at a morning news conference Sunday in advance of Monday's NCAA Division I men's lacrosse championship game between Maryland and Denver at 1 p.m. Asked how he felt, the senior faceoff specialist replied, right on cue, "Pretty good," as Tillman laughed and retorted, "You're consistent."

Then Raffa answered a follow-up question about how he felt on a scale of 1-to-10 by grinning and saying, "Let me go with a 7 because that's my number."

The Raffa injury report became relevant because he will go against the player with the best faceoff winning percentage in the country, Denver freshman Trevor Baptiste (69 percent). Raffa is at 60 percent but might have challenged Baptiste or the nation's No. 2 faceoff artist, Ben Williams of Syracuse (67 percent), according to Denver coach Bill Tierney.

"Had Charlie been healthy all year, I venture to say that he and Trevor -- and the kid from Syracuse -- would have been in a three-way battle. Would have been cool to see the three of them come out and go head- to-head with each other," Tierney said. "But Raffa has been a little bit banged up and now he's healthy. So we're talking about an 18-year-old freshman [Baptiste] who is sometimes afraid of his own shadow going against the best of the best. It's an intriguing matchup, the battle within the battle."

Raffa (14-for-26 against Hopkins), a senior, and Baptiste (15-for-24 in Denver's 11-10 overtime win over Notre Dame on Saturday) have never faced each other. They had a short turnaround to prepare for what figures to be a crucial factor Monday, given the teams' patient offensive styles, which place a premium on every possession.

So Raffa began his morning by watching video of Baptiste. "I watched every game just to see all his different tendencies. He's awesome. He doesn't really have many flaws," Raffa said. "So it's really important to stress our wing coordination, so when the ball does come out, they're in the right spot to get it."

On Saturday, Raffa scored his first goal of the season with a first-period solo dash after a clean faceoff win. That's a bonus he would love to duplicate against Denver.

"Just seeing how, with my moves, I can counteract him," Raffa said of battling Baptiste. "I just try to stay true to who I am."

Which is "pretty good."

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