BALTIMORE — Earlier this month, on this same field at Johns Hopkins, Northwestern pushed Maryland into an early hole and forced the Terrapins to swallow their first loss of the season in the Big Ten championship game. The only solace the Terrapins took from that defeat was the knowledge that they didn’t play to their potential.
When the teams met again Friday, the stakes were higher — a trip to the NCAA championship game to the winner — and the Terrapins showcased the very best version of themselves by dominating the Wildcats, 25-13.
“That reminded us that every team is going to come out and give us their best game,” senior defender Julia Braig said of the Big Ten tournament loss. “If we don’t do the same, we’re going to lose. ... We were excited for that opportunity to reevaluate ourselves, see where we can improve, see where we can get stronger and just attack the next part of the season.”
Maryland (21-1) will meet Boston College (22-1) in Sunday’s final, a rematch of last season’s NCAA semifinal, when the Eagles upset top-seeded Maryland. The Eagles survived North Carolina in a thrilling double-overtime win in Friday’s first semifinal, 15-14.
Maryland will be seeking its fifth national title under Coach Cathy Reese, who notched her 300th career win as her team put on a stunning defensive display against the Wildcats, holding them scoreless for the final 19 minutes. The Terrapins, playing in their 11th straight Final Four under Reese, closed the game with nine straight goals and put up their highest scoring game since Reese took over the program in 2007. The 25 goals were the most in the school’s NCAA tournament history.
“From where we were — we put up 11 last time we played [Northwestern] — and we needed to make changes from that,” Reese said. “To keep our foot on the gas and keep pressing forward and shoot as well as we did, against a defense as tough as them is something we’re really proud of.”
Maryland grabbed a five-goal lead late in the first half, but the Wildcats trimmed Maryland’s advantage to two after the intermission. Then Maryland found another gear.
Maryland goalie Megan Taylor, the Tewaaraton Award finalist who has the second-best save percentage in the nation, tallied 14 saves to stymie the Northwestern offense that averages 17.65 goals per game. In the team huddle after the game, the players chanted Taylor’s name.
“The saves that she had tonight, some of them she had no business making,” Reese said. “They were great against some really phenomenal shooters. I don’t know how else to say it. Northwestern’s offense is tough.”
Throughout the game, Brindi Griffin helped spark the Terrapins’ attack, scoring a team-high six times, including two straight goals just after Northwestern climbed back within two, which began a 12-2 Maryland run to close out the game. Even though this same Northwestern team held them to a season-low 11 goals earlier this month, nine Terrapins scored in the semifinal, making it fitting that even a defender left with a goal.
After the Northwestern defense forced a shot clock violation about midway through the first half, Braig intercepted a pass in transition and scored her first career goal — electrifying the Maryland sideline as all the players on the field congregated briefly to celebrate.
“When she came up with that, came up with the interception and ended up shooting, sometimes you hold your breath,” Reese said. “And then it went in and I think I jumped five feet in the air. ... That is such an emotional boost that she was able to bring to the table on that play.”
As the first half progressed, Maryland’s lead swelled further, eventually to an 11-7 halftime advantage. In just 30 minutes, the Terrapins’ offense had already matched its showing in the Big Ten final against the Wildcats, a 16-11 loss. Maryland converted six of its eight free-position shots, another vast improvement from the previous meeting between these teams. Meanwhile, Taylor only allowed one goal in Northwestern’s seven free-position attempts.
Late this season, Maryland developed a habit of letting opponents score first, but the Terps reversed the trend with a dominant start last weekend against Denver in the quarterfinals. Friday night, Maryland scored the first three goals, but that lead suddenly dwindled when Northwestern’s Izzy Scane fired two into the net in less than a minute. Scane, a centerpiece in the Wildcats’ potent offensive attack, finished with a five goals. Maryland held Selena Lasota, who leads Northwestern in scoring, to three goals.
It’s hardly surprising that Maryland’s season will close with a final date with the Eagles. The Terps beat Boston College to win the national title in 2017, and the Eagles turned the tables on Maryland in last year’s semifinals.
“Losing sucks. I think everybody that plays competitive sport can say that,” Taylor said, when asked about last year’s loss in the NCAA tournament. “Competing at this level, it’s unbelievable to come out with this type of win. Having that feeling last year, it just fuels our fire a little bit.”