Maryland's high-powered offense took a little while to heat up in Friday night's NCAA Division I women's lacrosse semifinal, but once it did, the No. 1 Terps kept rolling into the title game.
No. 5 Northwestern managed to slow the Terps offense in the first half, but Maryland used a 7-1 run through the middle of the game to power a 9-6 victory before an announced 8,256 at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium.
Brooke Griffin (South River) had two goals and two assists and Kelly McPartland had three goals and an assist, but the Maryland defense stifled the Wildcats in stretches, holding them without a shot for more than 10 minutes through the middle of the first half.
The Terps (22-1) will take on Atlantic Coast Conference rival and No. 2 Syracuse (21-2), for the third time this season in the national championship game Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at Johnny Unitas Stadium. The Orange, who defeated No. 6 Virginia 16-8 in Friday night's other semifinal, lost to Maryland twice this season, including the ACC final.
The Terps and the Wildcats, who will move into the Big Ten together next season, have been regular opponents in the semifinals recently. They've met four times in the past five years and split those meetings. Maryland took the title over the Wildcats in 2010 and Northwestern returned the favor a year later. Northwestern won in the semifinals in 2012.
In yesterday's semifinal, draw controls figured to be important to the Terps' aim to attack quickly and to the Wildcats preference for a slower-paced game. The Terps won 10 of 17 becoming only the second team to outdraw Northwestern this season.
Taylor Cummings (McDonogh), who won four draws to run her season total 120, said the key to battling Northwestern's Alyssa Leonard was not to try to win them in the air. The NCAA's all-time leader in draw controls, Leonard won 163 this season and 427 in four years.
"She's really good at getting it up to herself," Cummings said, "and my mentality going into it was to use our circle people. I just tried not to get it up to myself, because she's so dominant with her one hand, so I tried to make it a 50-50 ground ball and I think my team did a really good job of coming in hard and winning those 50-50 ground balls."
The Terps had a huge advantage in all 50-50 balls with 14 ground balls to five for the Wildcats.
Winning the first three draws helped the Wildcats dictate the pace in the first half and they took a 2-1 lead a little over 10 minutes into the game. Maryland went more than 14 minutes without a goal and the Wildcats had a chance to go ahead by two, but Terps goalie Abbey Clipp (Marriotts Ridge), who finished with eight saves, stopped Nancy Dunbar's free-position shot.
"In the first half, we had some chances and we just didn't capitalize on them," Wildcats coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said, "and you have to do that in these types of games. It's a game of inches and you've got two really good teams out there… We still played a great half, but I think if we had capitalized we would have gained a little bit more momentum."
Even though the Wildcats' Kerri Harrington face guarded Cummings, the Terps' leading scorer, and held her to one goal, Maryland, which averaged 14.8 goals coming into the final four, had plenty of attackers to pick up the slack. Griffin and McPartland led the way connecting on McPartland's goal that tied the game at 2-2 and started a four-goal run to finish the first half.
Leonard scored the first goal of the second half to end a Wildcats scoring drought of 24:39, but Maryland answered with three straight goals. Griffin fired a side-arm shot around a defender to give Maryland an 8-3 lead with 16:05 left and finish off the 7-1 run.
At that point, the Wildcats had gone more than 10 minutes without a shot, but Northwestern, which played 10 one-goal games this season, rallied.
After McPartland answered Kara Mupo's goal, the first for the Wildcats in more than 15 minutes, Mupo fed Kelly Rich and then scored again to pull within 9-6 with 4:13 left. The Terps, who outshot the Wildcats 24-17, won the next draw and held on as Northwestern drew three yellow cards leaving Maryland at least one man up for the final 3:39.