Northwestern runs past North Carolina into 6th straight title game

  • Katrina Dowd, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring the Wildcats' fourth goal.
Katrina Dowd, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
May 29, 2010|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

Big-game experience and pedigree won out for Northwestern on Friday night. The five-time defending NCAA DivisionI women's lacrosse champions eliminated stubborn North Carolina, 15-10, in front of a record crowd at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium.

The Wildcats' victory sets up a marquee final Sunday against top-seeded Maryland. The two most decorated programs in women's lacrosse have accounted for 15 national championships between them, 10 by the Terrapins, who won seven straight titles from 1995 to 2001.

Like Maryland, Northwestern (20-1) won impressively before the largest U.S. crowd ever — announced at 8,762 — to watch women's lacrosse. The Wildcats outshot Carolina 34-21 and had a sizable edge in draw controls, 17-9.

It also got big games from its best players. Katrina Dowd, a finalist for Player of the Year, scored three goals after a rough start. Erin Fitzgerald scored three times, and Danielle Spencer won eight draw controls in addition to her three goals.

But as efficiently as Northwestern was — it trailed only once, at 1-0 — the Tar Heels were hanging dangerously close in the final 15 minutes. Consecutive goals by Jarrettsville's Corey Donohoe — the second on a free-position shot — pulled Carolina within 10-9 with 15:49 to play.

But Northwestern scored the next four goals and five of the game's last six to avenge Carolina's regular-season upset in Evanston, Ill., a loss that ended a 41-game winning streak for the Wildcats.

Most of the late damage was inflicted when the Wildcats simply beat the Carolina defenders to the net for easy scores.

Shannon Smith started the barrage, followed by Alexandra Frank and Baltimore native Brooke Matthews. When Dowd hammered her 77th goal of the season past goalkeeper Logan Ripley with 3:41 to play, Northwestern had a 14-9 lead.

Nevertheless, Dowd had her hands full playing against Carolina's Jenn Russell. Her only goal in the first half was a spectacular behind-the-back toss from the right side that gave Northwestern a 4-3 lead.

Laura Zimmerman, who led Carolina (17-3) with three goals, scored her second with no time left on the clock at the half to get the Tar Heels a 4-4 tie.

But in the second half, Spencer helped Northwestern keep control of the ball and the game with her proficiency in draw controls. She became the fourth player in NCAA history to collect more than 100 draw controls in a single season.

"I didn't try anything different tactically," Spencer said. "I think I had a little bit more success tonight. Draws were definitely a main focus for us tonight, so anything that I can do for the team — if it comes to draw controls and I'm taking the draw — I want to do everything I can so that we can gain possession."

With an 11-9 lead, Northwestern went to a stall to use up clock, forcing Carolina's defense to come out and open up scoring lanes.

"They were really possessing the ball at the end and taking their time on offense," Donohoe said, "so that can tire the defense out a bit. You can only pressure out so much. Then when we got the ball on the offensive end, we weren't getting anything going. It's hard to get momentum when the other team possesses the ball so much and it only comes on your side for a few seconds."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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