Alex Rode wasn’t pleased with his performance during much of the NCAA men’s lacrosse national championship game Monday afternoon. But when his team needed him most, the Virginia goalie made the biggest save of the season.
Maryland’s furious comeback effort fell just short as Virginia defeated the Terrapins, 17-16, at Rentschler Field at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Connecticut.
After falling behind 16-11, Maryland cut Virginia’s lead to 17-16 when Anthony DeMaio scored with 11 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The Terrapins’ Luke Wierman won the ensuing faceoff and raced downfield before firing a point-blank shot that Rode stopped.
"I had a rough day," said Rode, who made 12 saves. "I didn’t have my best day in goal. The defense played great. [Wierman] took a shot and I was a little nervous. I felt I owed my team a couple and luckily it hit me in the body."
"We get to battle every day and how much better he makes us as shooters, you can’t really describe it," said Virginia attack Connor Shellenberger, who had four goals and two assists. "We’ve already seen the best goalie every day and in practice, and what he was able to do this tournament, 10 seconds left, he makes the game-winning save, so Alex Rode is about as clutch of a lacrosse player as it gets."
It was Virginia’s second straight title after winning in 2019. Last year’s season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It’s been a grind," defender Jared Conners said. "Knowing that you have a target on your back the whole season as the returning champions is something that we talked about throughout the season. But we weren’t going to let the 2019 team be the 2021 team. We were going to have our own story."
Petey LaSalla of Miller Place, a graduate of Rocky Point High School, won 21 of 37 faceoffs and had a goal, an assist and 11 ground balls for the Cavaliers. Virginia coach Lars Tiffany, a former Stony Brook coach, said LaSalla has been playing through injury and complimented the junior’s toughness.
"To get our offense going when things were stagnant early in the game and get us a goal and an assist," Tiffany said, "amazing."
Ian Laviano of Cold Spring Harbor and Chris Merle of Mount Sinai, a graduate of St. Anthony’s High School, each had two ground balls for Virginia.
Both teams went on scoring runs. No. 4 Virginia (14-4) had a 6-0 streak in the first half, taking an 8-4 lead with 8:33 remaining in the second quarter. No. 3 Maryland (15-1) cut Virginia’s lead to 9-7 at halftime. Matt Moore’s goal capped a 5-0 run that gave Virginia a 16-11 lead with 11:04 remaining in the fourth quarter before Maryland’s closing burst.
"We’ve been tested like this all season," Conners said. "We had our ups and downs. We had losses, we’ve had teams go on runs like that. We knew it was going to be a dogfight. We knew Maryland wasn’t going to just roll over."