Lacrosse: Smith goal with 18 seconds remaining propels Cats to 11-10 victory over Tar Heels

Jonah Rosenblum

It’s not often that a team gets beaten in nearly every statistical category, blows multiple three-goal leads and still comes out with a win, but Northwestern pulled it off Friday night, edging North Carolina 11-10 to advance to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament.

While the Wildcats were able to advance to their seventh straight championship game, the Tar Heels made sure that NU’s road wouldn’t be an easy one.

When sophomore midfielder Erin Fitzgerald completed a hat trick with 12:09 remaining in the contest, it appeared that the Cats had the game firmly in hand, leading 10-7. But North Carolina mounted a ferocious comeback, scoring three goals in a span of just under three minutes to tie the game at 10.

“You just can’t expect to constantly hold onto leads at this point of the season,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “At this point of the season, it’s do or die. For some of these players, it’s their last game in their careers so they’re not going to let up and you can’t expect them to.”

The game stayed knotted for several painstaking minutes, as Tar Heels goalie Lauren Maksym stonewalled Fitzgerald on consecutive possessions, but ultimately the Cats got the ball back in the final minutes and held on for the final shot.

Junior attacker Shannon Smith held the ball behind the net as the clock ticked down below 30 seconds, waiting for a shot to develop. Several North Carolina defenders came to get her, and in the process, Smith took a shove in the back.

“I saw the double-team coming and I tried to roll back behind the net to the left and I just got pushed from behind,” Smith said. “There was a girl behind me. They had another girl in front, and another girl was going to slide in, and I just dodged hard, and the girl went one way, and I dodged. I’m lucky I got through.”

After the foul was called, Smith reclaimed possession, came out from behind the net, and fired the game-winning goal into the cage. Smith said afterward that she had intended to take the final shot all along.

“There was no plan B or C for me,” Smith said. “I had all the confidence in myself. I like the last shot. That’s what you play for as an athlete, so I knew it was going in when I had it.”

That goal capped off Smith’s utter dominance of the Tar Heels this season. She scored four goals in NU’s 7-6 win over North Carolina earlier this season, and had four goals and an assist on Friday.

“I told her after the game that she was certainly the margin of victory for Northwestern,” North Carolina coach Jenny Levy said. “We tried to mix it up and take her off her rhythm but she was great tonight. We really didn’t have much of an answer for her.”

Smith helped the Cats triumph on a day in which the Tar Heels used a fluid passing offense to outshoot NU 30-19. North Carolina also secured an advantage in draw controls and ground balls.

Tar Heels junior midfielder Laura Zimmerman was the recipient of many fine passes, and she took advantage, pacing North Carolina with four goals.

“We were dealing with a high-pressure defense,” Zimmerman said. “If someone dodged on one side, one of us could get open and it happened to be me. Our team did a really good job at certain points of just moving the ball and getting past the defense.”

As a result of its last-minute win over North Carolina, NU will have a chance to play Maryland, for the first time since its 13-11 loss to the Terrapins in last year’s NCAA Championship game.

“It’s something that’s been in the back of our minds obviously all year, something that was an extra motivating factor,” Fitzgerald said. “To get to this point is awesome.”

While revenge is undoubtedly on the Cats’ mind, Northwestern junior goalie Brianne LoManto said it will be crucial for NU to keep its emotions at bay in Sunday’s grudge match.

“The biggest thing for us will to be to control our emotions and not let what happened to us last year take over,” LoManto said. “We just need to stay focused on the field Sunday.”