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No. No. 6 seed men’s lacrosse claws past No. 3 seed Johns Hopkins in double-overtime thriller to reach Championship Weekend – The Cavalier Daily

It had to be graduate forward Connor Shellenberger. Deep into the second overtime, with a season and a career hanging in the balance tenuously, it only made sense that Shellenberger was the one whose goal gave No. 6 seed Virginia an 11-10 win over No. 3 seed Johns Hopkins. The goal prompted a flood of orange and blue jerseys to flood the field to celebrate Sunday’s NCAA Tournament quarterfinal victory at Johnny Unitas Stadium.

The Cavaliers (12-5, 1-4 ACC) victory knocked the Blue Jays (11-5, 5-0 Big 10) out of the tournament. This came after an astonishing lacrosse game that featured one goalie withdrawn, two overtimes, three goals each from Shellenberger and freshman forward McCabe Millon, four separate three-goal runs or more and more madness in a game whose legacy will surely last for decades.

“You saw two teams completely empty the tank there,” coach Lars Tiffany said.

Johns Hopkins immediately began a 4-0 run that lasted until midway through the first quarter, buoyed by two goals from senior forward Russell Melendez, who finished the day with four.

Virginia’s defense huddled repeatedly, but the goals kept coming. At the other end, graduate goalkeeper Chayse Ierlan consistently repelled Cavalier’s attack and powerfully left his mark on the game on his way to 15 saves. Virginia pulled junior goaltender Matt Nunes midway through the quarter after surrendering four goals and making just one save.

Sophomore goalie Kyle Morris replaced Nunes. Morris had filled in for Nunes after the first quarter of a game against Duke earlier this season, but Tiffany had attributed that change to a minor Nunes injury. This was different: Morris had outperformed Nunes in practice all week.

“There was actually one or two coaches who thought, ‘Maybe we should start Kyle,’” Tiffany said. “I said, ‘Wow, wow, wow. First start in an NCAA quarterfinal against Johns Hopkins?’”

But with Nunes struggling and Morris, who had earned his spot this season and last week, waiting on the sidelines, the decision was clear. Morris finished with eight saves and six goals allowed.

The tide slowly turned as the quarter progressed. Virginia scored twice, first through graduate forward Jack Boyden, who totaled three goals that day, and then with Shellenberger. The Blue Jays scored a goal, but as the game moved from the first to the second quarter, Millon scored twice in a row, cutting the Cavalier deficit to 5–4. The freshman dazzled in front of the home crowd all day, and for his second goal he spun around the goal, jumped and then spun in the air before somehow slotting the ball into a minute gap.

“These are the moments you dream about as a kid,” Millon said.

The game continued like this, tilting back and forth, with each team scoring a few goals at a time. By the start of the third quarter, Virginia had climbed out of the early hole to tie the game at 7-7.

Johns Hopkins spent the remainder of the quarter methodically restoring the lead, building a cushion that it hoped would hold through the final minutes of the game. The Blue Jays scored three times in less than three minutes, losing time and knocking off Virginia.

A golden opportunity to break the scoring drought presented itself for Virginia, a deep pass that floated over the head of Johns Hopkins and into the stick of Boyden, who was on the threshold of the goal. It should have been an easy shot. Boyden caught it, feigned it, then threw the ball into Ierlan, who again, as if magnetized, lay sprawled directly in the ball’s path.

“I felt good all day and had confidence in the group until the end,” said Ierlan.

The Blue Jay fans clapped and stomped in unison, egged on by the school band, which traveled five miles from campus. But that band eventually fell silent. Out of a ground-ball scrum five minutes into the fourth quarter, graduate forward Payton Cormier emerged with the ball, which eventually ended up in the hands of Boyden, who scored. The goal ended a drought that had lasted almost fourteen minutes for Virginia.

Cormier had seemed invisible all day. The recently crowned most prolific scorer in Division I lacrosse history missed his first nine shots. But a few minutes after Boyden scored, the ball swung to him in transition and he fired a shot past Ierlan. Virginia was just one goal away from tying the score.

The equalizer came with three minutes to go. Millon maneuvered past a defender, felt around a bit and then simply stopped and scooped the ball into the bottom corner. The Virginia section went berserk.

But the celebration stopped immediately, as the officials rushed to the monitor and checked to see if a guilty toe had brushed the crease. The referees, after poring over the replay for a few minutes, decided that this was not the case. Once again cheers rang out from the stands.

So the match was tied at 10-10. This game between two venerable lacrosse programs, meeting for the 17th time in the NCAA Tournament, was tied with three minutes left. Everything became quiet.

The Blue Jays withstood two Virginia attacks in the final few minutes, the second a man down, the first a Cormier shot that whistled harmlessly across the goal and the Cavaliers turning it over the second time. So came overtime and all the unbearable tension that came with it.

The momentum during overtime accelerated in one direction and then the other. Morris produced two huge saves for Virginia. However, no one could score. So the game went to a second overtime, the first NCAA Tournament game with double overtime since Virginia defeated Duke in the 2019 semifinals.

Then came Shellenberger, and the moment that will last a lifetime and perhaps longer. He drove into the right alley, ducked behind the cage, then suddenly spun, jumped and threw the ball into the smallest piece of available net. All he talked about after that was the defense.

“They gave us so many chances in overtime,” Shellenberger said. “It was frustrating. We wanted to close it for them.”

Despite the tension of the game, Virginia dominated nearly every statistical category. It won the ground ball battle 40-27, the faceoff battle 16-10 and the turnover battle 25-19. It defeated Johns Hopkins 50-36, and it went 25-30 after zero to Johns Hopkins’ 17-26. It also played perhaps its best defensive game of the season.

The Blue Jays’ only statistical victory came in saves, as Ierlan’s stellar day helped them through the rough patches. In the end, it couldn’t stop Virginia. The Cavaliers, who recently lost four games in a row, somehow reached deep within themselves and produced a belief that made the difference.

“The power of faith,” Tiffany said. “I’ve been on the sidelines and you can see things aren’t going our way today. But not today, even though we never led to the end.”

Virginia now returns to Lincoln Financial Field and Championship Weekend, to the same round and same stadium where heartbreak visited the Cavaliers a year ago. The entire season has been building up to this point. Virginia will face No. 7 seed Maryland on Saturday at 2:30 p.m., with the game airing on ESPN2.