Men’s Lacrosse: Shellenberger’s game-winner in double OT lifts Cavaliers into NCAA semis

By Scott Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

It took a pair of extra sessions, but “Mr. May” himself – Virginia fourth-year Tewaaraton Award finalist Connor Shellenberger – took control in crunch time and delivered the game-winning tally to send his team to the pinnacle of college lacrosse one last time.

Shellenberger and No. 6-seeded Virginia erased an early 4-0 deficit, and then rallied again late to send its NCAA quarterfinal matchup against No. 3 Johns Hopkins to overtime.

When neither side could clinch victory across the first OT period, Shellenberger put the game in the books with his third goal of the day – and 31st of the year – with 1:40 on the clock in double overtime, giving the Cavaliers (12-5) an 11-10 win and one more trip to Lincoln Financial Field before he moves on to the professional ranks.

It turned out to be the only lead of the afternoon for the Wahoos, as the Blue Jays (11-5) eventually ran out of gas.

As head coach Lars Tiffany put it, both teams “completely emptied the tank” with their respective seasons on the line Saturday, and it certainly turned out to be one for the books that did not disappoint, just like the regular-season meeting in Charlottesville on March 2. Hopkins took that one, 16-14, and Tiffany knew that it would be another tightly contested affair with even more on the line.

“They showed us how good they could be when they came down to Charlottesville in early March, and we’ve watched and admired as they ran through the Big 10 regular season undefeated,” Tiffany said of the Blue Jays. “For us, this is what makes it such a big deal, because we know how good the Hopkins team is.”

With the win, UVA advances to Championship Weekend in Philadelphia for the fourth time in the last five seasons. The Hoos will square off against former ACC rival Maryland in next Saturday’s second national semifinal (2:30 p.m.) on ESPN2.

The seventh-seeded Terrapins (10-5) took care of No. 2 Duke, 14-11, in Saturday’s quarterfinal action. Top-seeded Notre Dame will take on No. 5 Denver in the first semifinal at noon next weekend in Philly. The Cavaliers defeated the Terps in the regular season in College Park, 14-10, back on March 16.

It was all Hopkins in the opening minutes of Sunday’s contest at Johnny Unitas Stadium. UVA goalkeeper Matthew Nunes surrendered four goals – three of them by JHU’s Russell Melendez – and made just one save by the 8:24 mark of the first quarter, and was replaced by backup Kyle Morris with a 4-0 deficit not even halfway through the period.

Virginia finally got its offense clicking, trimming the deficit to 5-3 by the end of the first, and each team scored twice in the second to make it 7-5 by halftime.

The Hoos fought all the way back to even at 7-7 midway through the third before the Jays closed the quarter with three unanswered tallies to take a 10-7 lead into the final frame. However, the Cavalier defense made sure they wouldn’t allow any further damage, keeping the Jays scoreless for the final 22-plus minutes of action.

Millon knotted the score at 10-apiece with just under three minutes to go in regulation, barely lifting his foot off of the crease before releasing his shot. The goal was reviewed by the officiating crew and upheld, giving the Cavaliers new life late in the contest.

The clock hit triple zeroes in the fourth quarter and neither team was able to get one to go in the first overtime period. Hopkins secured the faceoff to begin the second OT, but Chase Yager was able to cause a crucial Blue Jay turnover with 2:30 on the clock, and the ball wound up in the stick of Shellenberger.

Tiffany called a timeout with 1:54 to play, and a confident Shellenberger put the team on his shoulders when play resumed. The Charlottesville native dodged right, then slammed on the breaks and fired a left-handed shot that got past Hopkins goalie Chayse Ierlan for the game-winning goal before being mobbed by his teammates in celebration.

“There was something about our sideline today,” said Shellenberger afterwards. “I know the guys on the field had that belief, but you could just feel this energy from our sideline. And I was feeding off it, I’m sure the other guys on the field were feeding off it. It’s just like this do-or-die mindset and we’re just not leaving here with a loss.”

Shellenberger wasn’t the only Cavalier to record a hat trick, joining Jack Boyden and first-year star McCabe Millon, who also dished out 3 assists on the day.

Morris gave up 6 Hopkins goals, but finished with 8 saves in 59:44 of work between the pipes for his first victory of the season. Long-stick defensive midfielder Ben Wayer secured a career-best 10 ground balls and forced a pair of turnovers to help lead the Wahoo defense. Ierlan recorded 15 saves in the loss.