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Steele overcomes injury, lifts No. 3 Maryland women’s lacrosse over No. 2 North Carolina in OT

Caroline Steele never doubted that she would return from what appeared to be a very painful left knee injury for the Maryland women’s lacrosse team. And for that, the Terps are extremely grateful.

The senior attacker controlled the draw to open the second three-minute session of overtime and scored the game-winning, extra-man goal just 14 seconds later to propel No. 3 Maryland to a 13-12 win against No. 2 North Carolina before an announced 3,696 at Maryland Stadium on Sunday.

In what had all the inklings of a quiet outing, Steele, who had been kept off the scoreboard until there was 20:40 left in the second half, put an exclamation mark on the Terps’ program-record 79th consecutive home victory and their overall 13-0 record against the Tar Heels in College Park.

In the second half of regulation and first three-minute session of overtime, Maryland (3-0) lost 12 of 13 draws, including nine straight. But with North Carolina senior defender Charlotte Sofield serving a two-minute penalty assessed with 1:16 left in the first OT session, Steele corralled the loose ball off the draw to open the second extra session and carried it into the defensive zone.

After cutting off an initial dodge towards the cage, the Severna Park resident and Severn graduate stepped inside the left point and side-armed a low shot that skipped past Tar Heels sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Moreno and set off a large celebration among her teammates and the coaching staff.

“It was pretty funny,” said Steele, who finished with two goals. “I got the draw control, and I spun, and I looked up, and I saw the goal. For a split second, it went through my head, ‘I think I might be at the 12.’ Then I shot it, and I saw it go in, and I was literally like, ‘Oh my God.’ It was so awesome, and I couldn’t wait to celebrate with my teammates.”

Moreno, who made 11 saves, including a left-arm stop of a free-position shot by senior midfielder Jen Giles with 1:16 left in the first OT session, said she made the mistake of dropping her guard just before Steele’s shot.

“Obviously, I kind of wish I had it back,” she said. “It was one of those things where being in the situation we were defensively, I think initially, I was expecting her to take the shot. Then she rolled back, and I thought they were going to pull it back out, and I kind of tried to scan everywhere since we were man-down. So I was trying to help direct everyone. I kind of took my eye off the ball a little bit, and she just ripped it low and kudos to her for a great shot.”

Steele’s availability to provide the heroics appeared unlikely after she jumped in the air, landed awkwardly on her left leg and needed the assistance of a pair of trainers to get off the field with 9:49 left in regulation. But a few minutes later, she was back on offense.

“I told [trainer] Allie [Boll], ‘If I really need to get tape, just slap it on there,’ ” Steele said. “My old body is just having a hard time these days. Just getting a little extra rehab. But nothing really. A little scary tweak of the knee, but everything will be fine.”

Coach Cathy Reese said her fears were allayed when she looked over at Steele, who gave her a thumbs-up signal.

“I’m like, ‘All right. Let’s go,’ ” Reese said. “Steele went down early and was able to battle back and came away with the game-winner, which was huge.”

While Giles (Mount Hebron) paced the offense three goals and two assists and junior attacker Kali Hartshorn added three goals, senior goalkeeper Megan Taylor anchored the defense with 14 saves. The Glenelg graduate was especially strong in the final four minutes of regulation, when she stoned North Carolina junior midfielder Olivia Ferrucci from the left side of the crease and then in the slot.

“I always say make all the saves you need to and then one or two game-changing saves,” Taylor said. “Luckily, my game-changing saves came at the end. I wish I had a couple more, and I threw away a couple balls. So there’s always room for improvement. But overall, I’m excited.”

Senior midfielder Gianna Bowe and sophomore attacker Jamie Ortega each scored three goals for the Tar Heels (3-1), but a 9-4 halftime deficit contributed to the outcome, according to coach Jenny Levy.

“I think there’s a lot to take from it, there’s a lot to learn from it, and a lot of things we need to improve from it,” she said. “This early in the season, you play a game like this to find out about yourself, and I think we learned a lot about ourselves today.”

North Carolina 4 8 0 0 — 12

Maryland 9 3 0 1 — 13

Goals: NC—Bowe 3, Ortega 3, Mastroianni 2, Ferrucci, Hillman, Hoeg, Klages; M—Giles 3, Hartshorn 3, Steele 2, Evans, B.Griffin, G.Griffin, Siverson, Warther. Assists: NC—Hoeg 2, Klages; M—Giles 2, Evans, B.Griffin, May. Saves: NC—Moreno 11; M—Taylor 14.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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