Maryland's Caitlyn McFadden rushes to hug teammate Karri… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
COLLEGE PARK — Maryland coach Cathy Reese has a favorite saying that perfectly describes Friday's Atlantic Coast Conference women's lacrosse semifinal at Ludwig Field.
"The great thing about lacrosse is there's always a second half," Reese said with a laugh.
After getting off to a slow start against No. 4 Virginia, the No. 3 Terrapins scored the first five goals of the second half to spark a 10-6 victory and a chance to defend their title against No. 1 North Carolina on Sunday.
"We learned from what we just did," Reese said. "Our team has great potential and we have yet to reach it, and I think that's what excites me as a coach. We could see a difference in our team from the first half to the second."
In a first-half defensive standoff, Maryland took a 2-1 lead 13 minutes in, and neither team scored again until Brittany Kalkstein tied it for Virginia with 20.7 seconds left. The Terps, however, garnered a little momentum for the second half with two shots in the last three seconds after Iliana Sanza picked off a Virginia pass.
After the break, Karri Ellen Johnson and Brandi Jones scored two goals and Laura Merrifield added one as the Terps (15-1) used the five-goal run to take a 7-2 lead, but their defense played the key role.
Led by Karissa Taylor, Brittany Poist, Abby Caso and Sanza, the Terps held Virginia (13-4) scoreless for 15 minutes with alert coverage against the Cavaliers' patient set attack and with pressure that forced Virginia to turn over seven of 13 clearing attempts.
"I think Maryland, obviously their transition ride was really good, and it flushered us a little bit," Virginia coach Julie Meyers said, "and I think it kind of excited Maryland that we were flustered by it."
The Cavaliers' set offense was the most patient Maryland has faced, Taylor said, adding with a laugh that the Terps were "just trying not to fall asleep."
"It gives us an opportunity to take more risks whenever they sit back and do slow passes, working it around," Taylor said. "It doesn't take us out of our game because we've been practicing for it. We've been ready for it. We just stayed focussed throughout the whole attack."
Kalkstein, a Roland Park graduate who finished with four goals, brought the Cavaliers within 7-4 on back-to-back goals with 14:14 left, but Caitlyn McFadden snuffed the momentum with one of the Terps' five free-position goals.
The Terps meet North Carolina (14-1) for the title Sunday at 1 p.m. at Ludwig Field. Carolina, which beat Duke, 14-4, in Friday's other semifinal, dealt the Terps their only loss this season, 13-9, in Chapel Hill on April 10. The Blue Devils also edged the Terps, 8-7, in last season's NCAA Division I semifinal before falling to Northwestern in the title game.
On Friday, the Tar Heels rolled up a 7-0 lead in the first 14 minutes and boosted the lead to 13-1 when Megan Bosica fed Becky Lynch with 16:45 to go.
The Tar Heels, whose only ACC title came in 2002, also got three goals and two assists from North Harford graduate Corey Donohoe and two goals and two assists from Mount Hebron graduate Bosica.
Since suffering their only loss at Virginia, 13-12 in overtime, the Tar Heels have won eight straight games, including Sunday's 18-16 upset of then-No. 1 Northwestern, which ended a 41-game winning streak for the Wildcats.