STONY BROOK, N.Y. — When Northwestern's Shannon Smith made her move to goal in the waning seconds of Friday night's NCAA Division I women's lacrosse semifinal, she knew she was going to score the game-winner.
Smith had already scored three goals, and one more would put the Wildcats in the championship with a chance to avenge last year's title game loss to No. 1 Maryland. After a foul that put her out wide to the right of the goalie, she made her move
"There was no Plan B for me," Smith said. "I was waiting for the clock to hit 30 [seconds], and I had all the confidence in myself and I had the last shot. That's what you play for as an athlete, so I knew it was going in when I had it."
A few seconds later, after she was fouled, the junior Tewaaraton Award finalist made her move around the side against two defenders. One slid off, however, and Smith netted the game-winner with 18 second to go, giving the second-seeded Wildcats an 11-10 victory over third-seeded North Carolina before an announced 7,458 at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium.
The Wildcats (20-0) advance to the title game for the seventh straight time and will face Maryland, a 14-8 winner over Duke in the other semifinal, for the title Sunday at 4 p.m. For the third year in a row, the Tar Heels' season came to end on championship weekend at the hands of Northwestern.
The Tar Heels (15-6) rallied from three goals down twice, but a couple of turnovers on their attacking end in the last five minutes put the Wildcats in position to win as time wound down.
"I think we were trying to force things a little too much and letting their pressure get to us instead of playing our type of game, moving the ball around and moving our feet. I think we weren't playing the same calm game we wanted to and that caused a few turnovers," said North Carolina senior Corey Donohoe (North Harford), who had a goal and two assists.
The Tar Heels, who got four goals from Laura Zimmerman, just didn't have an answer for Smith, who has scored 82 goals and taken 154 shots this season and scored on every shot she took Friday night.
"I told her after the game that she certainly was the margin of victory for Northwestern," Carolina coach Jenny Levy said. "She is very dynamic, big, tough. We really can't do one thing to her; she will eventually figure it out. We tried to mix it up and take her off her rhythm, but she was great tonight."
The Wildcats took three-goal leads twice only to see North Carolina erase them both.
After Erin Fitzgerald gave Northwestern a 10-7 lead with 12:09 left, Laura Zimmerman cut the lead to 10-8 with 9:59 to go, and Brittany Coppa (North Carroll) made a slick move to lose her defender at eight meters and pull the Tar Heels within 10-9 with 7:56 left. Emily Garrity then found Zimmerman open in the arc to tie it at 10 with 7:13 to go.
The Tar Heels had a great chance to take the lead with five minutes to go but turned the ball over in transition. Goalie Lauren Maksym got the ball back with a terrific save on Fitzgerald, but the Tar Heels turned the ball over again in their attacking end with about 2:50 to go.
To open the game, the Wildcats scored three times in less than nine minutes, but the Tar Heels clawed their way back, outshooting Northwestern 20-8 in the half. Carolina tied the game at 4 when Garrity fed Becky Lynch with 4:28 to go in the first half. Jess Russo gave Northwestern a 5-4 lead, but Zimmerman tied the game on a free-position shot five minutes before the half.