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Maryland soccer is taking its redemption tour to the NCAA championship game

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Redemption was a big key in Friday’s College Cup semifinal match between the Maryland men’s soccer team and Indiana.

The past two seasons were a struggle for the Terrapins in the NCAA tournament, with early exits against Albany and Providence, respectively. Then this season, Maryland was in danger of missing the postseason all together after starting out 4-5-3 overall.

Now the Terrapins are one win away from claiming the fourth national championship in program history, and third under Coach Sasho Cirovski, following a convincing 2-0 win over the second-seeded Hoosiers.

Maryland (12-6-4) advanced to Sunday night’s final against unseeded Akron (15-6-2), which routed Michigan State, 5-1, in Friday’s earlier semifinal.

“I have talked about redemption all year and our failures and how we need to get back to playing Maryland soccer,” Cirovski said. “Now, we are playing at an all-time high.”

Maryland pulled itself together by finishing the year 4-1-1 to sneak into the postseason. From there, the 11th-seeded Terps put together impressive performances against N.C. State, No. 6 Duke, No. 3 Kentucky and now the Hoosiers.

“Since our win against Denver [on Oct. 16] we told ourselves that we needed to focus on what we had to do to get to the point we’re at right now,” said junior defender Donovan Pines, who scored the second goal. “Now, we are like brothers. We fight for each other, we play for each other and we play good with each other.”

Heading into the semifinal, the Hoosiers had not lost a match since Oct. 3 and had outscored their opponents 22-3 during that time. That run included a 2-1 home win over Maryland on Oct. 12 and a 1-1 draw in the Big Ten semifinals in which the Hoosiers advanced on penalty kicks.

“To beat a great program like Indiana on this stage was going to take a herculean effort on both sides of the ball and our players executed perfectly,” Cirovski said.

The Terrapins defense was ferocious on Friday. Multiple times Pines overpowered Indiana’s strong wing players, including Indiana’s senior defender Andrew Gutman, who scored all three goals in the teams’ two previous matchups.

Maryland’s offense broke through in the 37th minute when Matt Di Rosa struck from the right side of the box right past Indiana goalkeeper Trey Muse. Its was the first goal of the sophomore midfielder’s career.

“I was so happy when I scored. As a substitute you are always ready to come in and contribute and I did that,” Di Rosa said.

Holding the lead at intermission injected fresh energy into the Terrapins’ lineup.

“We knew if we could get that first goal we could continue forward and then once we got it we weren’t content we wanted to keep playing hard,” junior goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair said.

Indiana responded by going on an all-out attack to start the second half, outshooting Maryland 11-4.

The Hoosiers’ best chance at an equalizer came in the 68th minute when Spencer Glass had a clear shot on the left side with St. Clair out of position. Then, sophomore defender Ben Di Rosa — Matt’s twin brother — thwarted the attack by flying in with a perfect slide tackle and kicking the ball out of play.

Eleven minutes after Ben Di Rosa’s pure-effort play, Pines padded the Terps’ lead.

In the 79th minute, a free kick from junior midfielder Eli Crognale lofted into the box and, despite an Indiana defender trying to head it out of bounds, landed right in front of Pines who poked it past the keeper.

In Sunday’s final, the Terps will try to complete their tear against another decorated program on an unexpected run.

Akron, the 2010 national champion and a two-time runner-up, has won nine consecutive games since starting the season 6-6-2. Its blowout of the Spartans followed two huge tournament upsets, 3-2 at three-time defending national champion Stanford in the quarterfinals and 1-0 at Wake Forest, the top overall seed, in the round of 16.

“They have really hit their stride. They are playing with confidence and pride and their path to the College Cup has been nothing short of amazing,” Cirovski said.

With the way the season started to where it is now, it might be easy to think the Terrapins are content no matter what happens Sunday. But Cirovski said only one thing will provide redemption his team has been seeking.

“This is a great chapter in the story we are writing this season, but the story is not complete, and we are certainly not satisfied at this point until we get that last win,” Cirovski said.

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