The scene was the same: The Maryland women's lacrosse team was sitting on a comfortable second-half lead that was beginning to slip away.

Only today, against a Virginia team that had rallied from a six-goal deficit to defeat them earlier this season, the fifth-ranked Terrapins were too pesky on defense and too persistent on offense. They defeated the second-ranked Cavaliers, 12-7, in the semifinals of the NCAA playoffs at Virginia's Scott Stadium.

The Terrapins' victory, here on the artificial turf before 200 boisterous fans, allows them to return to Byrd Stadium for next Saturday's championship against Penn State, an 8-7 winner today over Temple. Virginia (14-2), playing in its first postseason match since 1980, lost for the first time in 10 games.

"I think as the year moves along, we get better with our skills," said attackman Anysia Fedec, who, along with her teammates, had her best passing game of the year. "We knew we could regain control."

As a result of some exciting play from Fedec, who had four goals and two assists in the first half, the Terrapins (14-4) began the second half with an 8-4 lead. And, after two quick goals by Kaaren Ruth (21:52 remaining) and Wendy Beer (20:41), Maryland found itself comfortably ahead, 10-4.

But it wasn't until Wendy Heald drove the right side and scored unassisted with 4:43 to play that the Terrapins could relax.

"We really needed some key goals," said Maryland Coach Sue Tyler. "We had just hit the pole and thrown a pass away. We needed that goal that made it 11-7."

Maryland's offense sputtered at times in the second half, but its defense -- with a few lapses -- remained strong. Although Virginia's Dawn Wisniewski shook free for four goals and an assist, Tracey Stumpf and Ruth held the Cavaliers' leading scorer, Lindsay Sheehan (60 goals), to one goal.

Stumpf had six interceptions, five in the first half.

"Today was the first time somebody got to see her," said Tyler of Stumpf. "This was the first time she's been on another team's best player."

"They did some basic things well," said Stumpf. "They had everybody flashing in the middle, but we had people sticking with them."

Sheehan, whose two assists gave her 66 for the season, did not expect the Cavaliers to lose on their home field. "I wasn't really prepared to lose," said Sheehan, who was positioned behind the Maryland goal throughout the match. "They put a lot of pressure and had three or four players on me. It was hard to get someone the ball. Perhaps we could have flashed players in the middle more."

Virginia began to rally with 9:33 remaining when Lynn Campbell scored off a free position -- after goalkeeper Kim Chorosiewski stopped her seconds earlier. Wisniewski and Sally Ulman then scored to bring the Cavaliers within 10-7 with 7:29 to play.

But Heald carried the ball close to the right side of the goal and scored to give the Terrapins an 11-7 lead. At 1:27, Beer scored her fourth goal to make it 12-7.