Holden saves Syracuse's season
Reserve's sudden-victory shot lifts Orange to championship
STONY BROOK, N.Y. - Syracuse spilled out onto the field, dancing deliriously across the Kenneth G. Lavalle Stadium turf before stifling its celebration for a few seconds while awaiting a ruling on a stick check.
After freshman attackwoman Alyssa Murray asked the referee to check after Florida scored the game-winning goal that was disallowed with nine seconds left in overtime, she waited nearby to hear the happy news that Sarah Holden's score would send the Orange into Sunday night's NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse National Championship title game.
In all, it capped an unlikely sequence as fourth-seeded Syracuse overcame a 12-5, second-half deficit -- the second largest in tournament history -- to topple the top-seeded Gators 14-13 in double overtime Friday night.
Before Friday night, Florida (19-3) had won 16 consecutive games since its last loss, a 12-11 OT setback against -- you guessed it -- Syracuse (19-3).
"Sometimes it takes a little bit of divine intervention, luck," Syracuse head coach Gary Gait said. "We just didn't give up. We fought until the end."
Syracuse is no stranger to postseason comebacks, arriving in the semifinals after scoring three times in the final three minutes to shock fifth-seeded North Carolina 17-16 in last weekend's quarterfinals.
However, that comeback lacked the dramatic plotlines that played out Friday night. Despite dominating the attack across the first 10 minutes, the Orange managed just one goal thanks to some superb goalkeeping by Florida's Mikey Meagher.
Eventually, Syracuse trailed 7-3 at intermission, then 12-5 with 17:15 left after Brittany Dashiell's fourth goal of the game, seemingly removing any doubt about the outcome of Friday night's first semifinal.
Instead, Gait reminded his charges of last week's rally, saying matter of factly, "We could certainly get this done. Not a problem. It's always nice to have a reference point to prove what you're saying."
Almost on cue, Syracuse's dormant attack came alive. Murray, who entered the game with 70 goals, produced the first of her three tallies Friday night with 7:49 remaining. Meanwhile, senior Sarah Holden found the back of the cage three times herself, including a score off a free-position shot with 30 seconds remaining to forge a 13-13 tie.
From there, it ultimately came down to a pair of stick calls.
On the first, Florida held for most of the final 90 seconds before Gabi Wiegand's goal with nine seconds left in the first overtime seemingly sent the nation's No. 1 team into the national championship game in just its third season.
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Murray's questioning led to the referee ruling Wiegand's stick illegal because her pocket proved too deep, setting the stage for a second, sudden-victory overtime.
"We were obviously elated. We thought the goal was a great play that we set up," Florida head coach Amanda O'Leary said. "Unfortunately stick checks are part of the game."
Said Murray: "I just felt like it was something I had to do."
Syracuse ultimately won the game 58 seconds into sudden-victory overtime when Holden, a reserve, broke through the Gators' defense with her fourth goal of the game and 35th of the season, capping a comeback that only pales compared to Virginia overcoming a 13-4 deficit to down Duke 14-13 in 2007.
Not surprisingly, Florida requested a stick check, temporarily tempering Syracuse's celebration.
"They did it pretty quickly," Murray said, smiling. "We were all huddled around the referee.
"It's even more excited once they call it."
Seconds later, Syracuse spilled across the Kenneth G. Lavalle Stadium turf. The Orange are bound for Sunday night's national championship game.
"It's a game of runs," O'Leary said. "They made their run when it counted."