SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Loyola's No. 1 women's lacrosse team couldn't quite manage that storybook ending to its emotional season.

Defending national champion Princeton ended the Greyhounds' run two wins short of their first national title last night before 1,440 at the Carrier Dome with a 5-3 victory in a tight defensive struggle.

The Tigers avenged the early 9-8 overtime loss to the Greyhounds, which boosted Loyola to No. 1 and kept it there for eight of the last nine weeks of the regular season.

With the loss in the NCAA semifinals, the Greyhounds (17-2) closed the book on a sentimental season in which they had hoped to deliver the program's first national championship to Diane Geppi-Aikens, who has coached all season from a wheelchair while battling brain cancer.

The Greyhounds did a remarkable job of staying focused and, at Geppi-Aikens' request, not making the season all about winning for her, but in the end, the pressure seemed to get to them.

With about seven minutes left last night and the fifth-ranked Tigers up 4-3, Loyola defender Jen Albright drew a yellow card, apparently for throwing a defender's stick after being fouled in a Tigers double team that forced her out of bounds.

Princeton defender Rachael Becker said the Greyhounds would have gotten the ball, but Albright's action brought her an unsportsmanlike-conduct foul.

Her second yellow card of the game drew Albright an automatic ejection. While the action unfolded on the sideline, however, two Princeton players who had been offside sneaked back over the restraining line.

After that, two more Loyola players picked up yellow cards and, in one stretch, starting defenders Albright, Kristi Korrow and Kourtney Porcella were all on the bench. Korrow and Porcella had returned, however, when Theresa Sherry scored on a feed from Whitney Miller with 1:22 left to send the Tigers into tomorrow's 1 p.m. national title game against No. 3 Virginia, which beat Maryland, 9-8.

At the postgame news conference, Geppi-Aikens refused to talk about the officiating, saying the Greyhounds lost because they missed too many opportunities. Instead, she wanted to focus on the success of a season in which her team won its first 14 games and set a school record for victories.

"We had a great year and I'm so proud of my team," Geppi-Aikens said. "I can't be disappointed in going undefeated for as long as we did and with as much adversity as this team had to deal with all season.

"Four and five years, some of these players have been on this team and they played hard. They're wonderful people and I've enjoyed every second of this entire year."

But last night belonged to Princeton (15-4), which held the Greyhounds to their lowest offensive output since a 9-3 loss to Virginia in 1989.

The Tigers limited the Greyhounds to seven shots and did not allow a goal in the final 26:43 of the game. The Princeton defense, led by Becker, Katie Norbury and Elizabeth Pillion, kept Loyola's offense off balance, holding playmaker Rachel Shuck without a goal and top scorer Suzanne Eyler to two free-position goals.

"We knew that Shuck really likes to feed from behind," Becker said, "and Eyler is a great player, so we wanted to try and take her out of the game a little bit -- basically, hard pressure and great team defense."

Against that defense, Loyola wanted to run as it had in the first meeting, but the Greyhounds rarely had the chance because the Tigers won eight of 10 draws and dominated possession time. The Greyhounds kept switching players to try to counter Sherry on the draw, but the Bryn Mawr graduate kept sending the ball to her teammates.

Despite the premature ending, Eyler, a fifth-year senior from North Harford, said she wouldn't trade this season for anything.

"This season has been an incredible journey," Eyler said. "Diane, our coaches, our team, we're a true family. If this season had to end this way, so be it. We might have lost the game, but in life we won. Having Diane in our lives, she taught us that winning and losing a lacrosse game isn't anything. Being with the people that you love and enjoying life, that's really how you win at life."

Princeton 2 3 -- 5

Loyola 2 1 -- 3

Goals: P--Pillion 2, Miller, Sherry, Sloanaker; L--Eyler 2, Korrow. Assists: P--Becker, Miller. Saves: P--Kolodner 3; L--Lawton 5, Nicolaus 4.