Pioneers win 1st men's lacrosse title

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

PHILADELPHIA -- When Bill Tierney left Princeton for the University of Denver, he knew and understood he would face some criticism.

Tierney won six titles in men's lacrosse with the Tigers, but he left to build something with the Pioneers.

On Monday, he reached his destination as Denver won its first NCAA lacrosse title and became the first team outside the Eastern Time Zone to win the championship with a 10-5 victory over Maryland.

"If you know me at all, it's not about thinking that I'm crazy," said Tierney, who has a record seven titles combined with the two programs. "It's knowing it.

"It was time for something different in a selfish way. It was just really a selfish move, but with that move came a challenge. And I think if you live life facing challenges, like I asked these guys to do, [you can be successful]."

Senior Wesley Berg, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, led the way for the Pioneers as he scored five goals. Zach Miller added a goal with a pair of assists.

Goalie Ryan LaPlante stopped 13 shots as Denver, fresh off an overtime win against top-seeded Notre Dame in the semifinals Saturday, dominated much of the game.

The fourth-seeded Pioneers (17-2) jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first quarter as Berg scored the Pioneers' first three goals.

Under Tierney, the Pioneers, who ended the year on a 13-game winning streak, are 63-5 when holding a lead at the half and showed why with a strong final 30 minutes.

"I thought [Denver] just executed very well," said Maryland coach John Tillman, who fell to 0-3 in finals appearances. "I think we struggled to get leverage. I think we got stagnant off the ball [offensively].

"We were moving inside as much as we could. We had looks, but we got stubborn with our shooting. Give [LaPlante] credit, he was outstanding high, but we tried to change our levels and that's easier said than done."

Denver held a 5-3 lead at the half, and after an empty possession for the Terps to begin the third quarter, Miller recovered a rebound and fired a shot past Maryland goalie Kyle Bernlohr with 11:43 left in the period for a 6-3 lead.

Miller's first goal set the tone for the rest of the half as Denver's defense continued to frustrate Maryland.

Just over three minutes later, Denver looked to make the title game a rout as Colin Woolford scored his 10th goal of the season, this one unassisted as he found an opening to Bernlohr's right and fired high for a 7-3 lead.

Berg, who ended the year with a program-record 58 goals in a season, scored his fourth goal of the day on an assist from Miller, his second, to build an 8-3 lead with 7:07 to play in the third.

"It's been a long journey," Berg said. "We were one goal away our first year against Loyola, and they ended up winning it. We lost to Syracuse. This year we stuck to it, and it went our way thanks to our perseverance."

Maryland, which made its third appearance in the past five seasons in the national championship game, entered the game with a 4-0 all-time record against Denver butfell to 2-10 in championship games.

However, the Terps have struggled offensively this season. That was magnified by a stout Denver defense, which held the Terps scoreless over a 20:23 stretch in the second half that ended with 1:21 left in the game.

"The defense gave me the shots that I wanted to see," said LaPlante. "They weren't in tight saves that I had to make. My defense kept them to 13-yard shots, and that's where I want to see them."

In the end, Tierney's choice paid off both for him and his new university.

"We wouldn't have admitted it beforehand, but just like [Berg] carried us for a few games, I feel like we were carrying a burden around," Tierney said. "And now it's off and we move on."

The Associated Press and ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

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