Maryland narrowly edges Syracuse to remain perfect, earn berth to title game
VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Brooke Griffin's late score in the waning moments of the second half solidified Maryland's 11-10 victory against Syracuse and a trip to the national championship game against North Carolina on Sunday.
Cathy Reese created a term to coin what this once-fluid game had become: “franticness.” And yet, top-ranked Maryland found itself fighting into the final minutes Friday night, unable to score that one goal which would, finally, send one of the nation's storied women's lacrosse programs back to the national championship game.
Finally, after a series of abbreviated trips up the turf, the Terrapins found themselves circling around Syracuse's cage, time quickly melting away in a 10-10 game when Griffin made her move toward the goal.
A quick pass from Katie Schwarzmann, an even quicker flick of the wrist on Griffin's shot, and the Terrapins had, with 2:51 left, finally looked like the version of themselves that won their previous 22 games convincingly.
And, finally, Maryland is back in the NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Championship game for the first time in two years. After overcoming Syracuse by an 11-10 margin before 6,298 at Villanova Stadium, the Terrapins will play ACC rival North Carolina on Sunday night in hopes of winning their first national title since 2010.
“A credit to our team, to be down in the second half … they stayed really composed out there,” Reese said. “The goal that we scored, we moved the ball several times and it happened really fast.”
It was the version of Maryland (23-0) we saw across much of this season — and even across the first 35 minutes Friday night en route to seizing a 9-6 lead as Kelly McPartland (three goals, one assist) scored twice inside of 53 seconds.
Just as the Terrapins appeared ready to shake themselves free from a pesky Syracuse (18-4) side that had not climbed any closer than one goal previously, the Orange answered with four consecutive scores. Kayla Treanor (four goals, two assists) and Katie Webster each found the back of the cage twice and, suddenly, the Terrapins' title hopes became shrouded in doubt as they trailed 10-9 with 18:31 remaining.
“We got caught standing [around],” said Schwarzmann, who finished with a goal and three assists. “Once we were able to get the ball moving, we found open opportunities.”
Sure enough, less than two minutes after Syracuse's final goal of this national semifinal game, Maryland marched downfield on a counter-attack. McPartland is something of an afterthought in opposing game plans tailored around Schwarzmann and fellow senior Alex Ault (two goals, two assists), but her third goal of the evening forged a tie at 10 with 16:51 remaining.
“Our top weapons are usually Katie [Schwarzmann] and Alex [Aust],” McPartland said. “That's who teams usually pick out and go against. If we move the ball, we have so many options anyone can do it.
“I just happened to be the one [Friday].”
However, the next 14 minutes left everyone waiting for a final, game-defining sequence. Outside of a few big saves by Syracuse's Alyssa Costantino down the stretch, the Terrapins and Orange traded sloppy possessions mired by fouls, turnovers and missed opportunities.
That is, until Maryland finally marched downfield with about 3:30 remaining. Much like they have all season, the Terrapins moved the ball rhythmically: behind the net, to the flanks, cutting and keeping the Syracuse defense wondering who would make their move as the nation's top-ranked team continued to circle around its cage.
Then Griffin made her move. In a couple of fluid motions, Schwarzmann's pass from behind the cage found the webbing of Griffin's stick. With a flick of the wrist, a tie game finally became decided.
“We were just moving the ball,” Brooks said. “Katie [Schwarzmann] got the ball to me. We were just move it really fast and try to get the defense off guard.”
Maryland then melted the final seconds off the clock, ensuring an end to what its coach called “franticness” and securing a spot in Sunday's title game against a North Carolina squad it has already defeated twice this season.
“Our girls just play with a lot of composure and confidence out there,” Reese said. “I'm really proud of that.”