Maryland was at the brink. After an undefeated regular season and a 20-1 record heading into Sunday’s National Championship Game, the second-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels scored the final four first-half goals to take a 6-3 lead after 30 minutes of play.
The Terrapins had to bounce back in a big way to become back-to-back National Champs.
Maryland responded as champions do, scoring the first five second-half goals on its way to an exciting 9-8 win in front of 8,143 fans at PPL Park on Sunday night.
“I’m really proud of my team’s effort, especially in the second half,” said Maryland head coach Cathy Reese. “We came out and fought hard every possession against a really good Carolina team. Give them a lot of credit; they were going hard all game long. We found a way to crawl our way back after the hole we dug ourselves in and pull out a great victory for Maryland.”
The Terrapins were forced to work for every draw, every defensive stop and every goal. Maryland pulled within 6-4 with 25:57 on the second-half clock. Not long after, goalie Alex Fitzpatrick made a big point-blank save on a transition opportunity to give her team the ball back. Maryland converted its ensuing possession as Brooke Griffin converted a feed from Taylor Cummings. The Terps continued to gain the draw and Cummings scored the tying goal at 19:12.
Megan Whittle, a freshman, took over from there, as Whittle scored two straight unassisted goals from almost the same spot, somehow finding the back of the net with almost no angle from the side of the cage.
North Carolina converted a free-position shot, but Cummings scored her third goal of the game just 2:02 remaining to help Maryland regain a 9-7 advantage.
The Terrapins played a lot of keep away down the stretch. The Tar Heels eventually forced a turnover and scored with 3:02 on the clock to pull within one. Maryland was awarded the ensuing draw control due to an illegal substitution and UNC wouldn’t get the ball back.
The story for Maryland was its toughness and tenacity, rather than folding under pressure, stepping up and raising its game against a very strong North Carolina team.
“We really pulled together and were like, we have 30 minutes left and that will make or break our season,” said Cummings, the tournament’s MVP. “We showed so much heart and so much hustle. I think we exemplified what Maryland lacrosse really is in that second half.”
“They did a good job of focusing on one goal at a time,” said Reese. “I think that every goal gave them a little more confidence, and I think every goal was of equal importance.”
The first half was chalk full of runs. After UNC took a 2-0 lead, Maryland responded with three straight goal, but the Tar Heels answered right back with four in a row. Five different players combined to score North Carolina’s six first-half goals, led by two from Maggie Bill.
“It was another epic battle, a battle of defenses, in the first half,” said North Carolina head coach Jenny Levy. “In the second half, they just turned up their intensity, especially on the ride, and caused a lot of turnovers on us, and we just really didn’t have the ball to combat that.”
The story of the day was Maryland, who posted an undefeated regular season, lost a tough final to Ohio State in the Big Ten Semifinals, but responded by going 4-0 in the NCAA Tournament. Trailing in draw controls 6-4 at the half, Maryland held a 7-2 edge in the second half which led to the program’s second straight championship. Then when UNC gained possession, the Terrapins pressured and forced six turnovers. North Carolina had more second-half turnovers (6) than shots (4).
“I thought draw controls was a difference, because we played a lot of defense,” said Levy. “Then they put a lot of pressure on us because we didn’t have any possession; you’re playing long sets of defense, and then you’ve got to clear the ball under their pressure. I credit Maryland. That’s what they do well.”