STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Shannon Smith scored her fourth goal with 18 seconds remaining and second-seeded Northwestern advanced to its seventh consecutive NCAA women’s lacrosse final with an 11-10 victory against third-seeded North Carolina on Friday night.
Erin Fitzgerald added three goals for the Wildcats (19-3), who will face top-ranked Maryland on Sunday in a rematch of last year’s title game. Northwestern lost 13-11 to the Terrapins last year, ending a run of five consecutive championships.
“Obviously we’re thrilled to be moving on to the championship game and I think we had our ups and downs today,” Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “But as we showed throughout the season, we kind of have a strong will to win and we made things happen when the going was tough.”
The Wildcats wasted three three-goal leads and gave up 30 shots, requiring Smith to deliver a big play.
“Shannon’s a great player,” North Carolina coach Jenny Levy said. “She’s a great offensive player and you can’t go into the game without any kind of game plan against her.
“She’s just very dynamic. She’s big and she’s tough and she’s capable of getting her shot off and you can’t do just one thing to her. She’ll eventually figure it out.”
Laura Zimmerman scored four goals for North Carolina (16-5), which lost to Northwestern in the semifinals last year and the championship game two years ago.
Smith came through after being unable to find an open teammate in front of the Tar Heels net and being fouled by Taylor Chutney with 25 seconds remaining. After driving past Chutney and Mia Hurrin, Smith swept a shot from close range past goaltender Britt Giacco.
“I had the ball behind the net and I was just waiting for the clock to go down,” Smith said. “I was going up to the right side, the girl slid and I got fouled. I kind of just ran to the goal and the one girl who was doubling me slid off and I took that one girl 1-on-1 and got lucky that it went in.”
After Smith’s 29th career tournament goal sealed the win, a good portion of the 7,468 fans at Kenneth Lavelle Stadium gave the Wildcats a standing ovation. Their roster includes several players from Long Island.
“It’s awesome,” goaltender Brianne LoManto said. “It definitely has that home-crowd advantage but at the same time, we all have the same goal and we all got to stay focused and get things done on the field.”
Before Smith scored her 12th goal in this tournament, it appeared North Carolina was on its way to a dramatic victory. Zimmerman scored twice and Brittney Coppa added another in a span of 2:46 for a 10-10 tie with 7:13 remaining.
“That just shows the kind of team that we are,” Tar Heels midfielder Corey Donohoe said. “We just never give up no matter what and we never let down.”
Before North Carolina’s final rally, Northwestern had scored four straight in a span of 11:41 and took a three-goal lead on Fitzgerald’s third of the night with 12:09 remaining.
Fitzgerald and Smith, who have combined for 111 goals this season, scored two of the first three goals as the Wildcats opened a 3-0 lead in the first nine minutes.
Becky Lynch scored twice in the first half for the Tar Heels.