With an appearance in the NCAA championship game on the line, No. 5 Maryland field hockey and No. 9 Liberty went into the second overtime with the score knotted at 2-2.
After Maryland crawled back from a two-goal deficit, it was Liberty that delivered the decisive strike to abruptly end the Terps’ title aspirations with under two minutes left on the clock.
Both teams were visibly tired and the Flames caught the Terps in transition. Liberty’s Kelsey Heltzel sprinted down the field, putting Maryland in a two-on-one defensively, then slotted the ball across to the left side to forward Charlotte Vaanhold who took a rising shot that made its way into the Terps’ net to seal the game in sudden death.
Vaanhold’s goal in double-overtime was the final blow to Maryland’s season as the Terps fell 3-2 to Liberty in the Final Four in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Friday afternoon.
Maryland looked determined to get out to a fast start and rattled off the first few shot attempts of the game against a Liberty team that entered the matchup with just two losses this season.
Freshman forward Hope Rose got things going offensively for Maryland in the opening 15 minutes. She maneuvered her way through Liberty’s defenders to get off a shot seven minutes into the game, but her attempt missed wide left of the cage as the score remained tied at zero apiece.
Rose was a solid offensive factor, earning two shots in the opening quarter as she helped the Terps search for holes in Liberty’s stifling defense.
Both teams used the first quarter as a period to collect data and make adjustments to their offensive attack going forward in this monumental contest. The Terps attempted four shots at the cage in the first frame, while Maryland’s defense held strong on the other end as Liberty only registered one shot.
Maryland has found great success when midfielder Brooke DeBerdine, who has played the full 60 minutes in each of the last three games coming into the Final Four, and the crew are able to get on the perimeter to sprint in transition with their sights on pressuring their opponents’ cage. Maryland was firing off shots in the first half, but where it was held quiet was in transition.
Liberty’s game plan was to trap Maryland’s offensive players when they were running free in transition, and as a result, the Terps’ typical speed on the field struggled to help them generate goals over the course of the second quarter.
The Terps were constantly greeted by a pack of Liberty athletes who were motivated to stifle any glimpses of scoring opportunities for Maryland. Despite facing a stout defense, the Terps’ offensive push wasn’t quite finished late in the first half.
Maryland earned two penalty corners with under four minutes in the second quarter. It generated three penalty corners in the opening half, though it was unable to convert those chances into goals.
On the first penalty corner, Maryland’s Emma DeBerdine made an entry pass to Riley Donnelly that was deflected and eventually pushed out of the zone. Then on the next corner, Rose took a shot and tried to end the tie, but it misfired. The ball was deflected and Bibi Donraadt came onto the ball and fired a shot, but it went wide of the net to keep the game scoreless at the half.
With the score tied at zero after 30 minutes, it was the third time in the last three games that Maryland had held an opponent without a goal at the break. The Terps outshot the Flames 11-6 in the first half.
The third quarter saw Maryland exercise more patience on the offensive end than it displayed in the first half. The Terps continued to apply pressure offensively, but then Liberty struck a decisive blow to Maryland’s NCAA Tournament title hopes.
Just over a few minutes into the third quarter, Liberty defender Maddie Holser made a long outlet pass to senior defender Jill Bolton, who sprinted towards a threatening area near the left side of the Terps’ cage.
Bolton was staring Maryland’s star goalie Noelle Frost in the face as she glided towards Maryland’s net. Frost accelerated forward and stepped more than five feet out of the cage. Then Bolton made a dynamic side-step around Frost and wired a shot that made its way into the right side of the goal to give Liberty the 1-0 lead.
The Flames were determined to extend their advantage in what turned out to be an abrupt scoring explosion near the end of the third quarter.
Liberty’s Vaanhold sprinted towards the left side of the field with just under two minutes remaining in the third, then Frost stepped out of her cage as she realized that she needed to make a save to stop Maryland from facing a two-goal deficit.
Frost made the initial save after Vaanhold fired off a shot from roughly 10-feet out, but Vaanhold quickly shifted the outlook of the game. The ball bounced back to Vanhoold, who in turn ripped a second shot that wrapped around Frost as it entered the right side of the cage to extend Liberty’s lead to 2-0.
Maryland would respond in a quick fashion.
Maryland got out on the edges and looked to get on the board with under one minute remaining in the third quarter. Junior Emma DeBerdine then released a shot at the net that got deflected and flew into the air, only to find midfielder Bibi Donraadt in front of the cage.
Donraadt tracked the ball at its highest point and deflected the shot into the cage, to trim Liberty’s lead to 2-1 heading into the final 15 minutes.
Maryland remained persistent with it still down by one and it continued to press on the offensive end, then it magically found an equalizer late in the contest.
With under five minutes left in the final frame, Maryland’s aggressiveness earned it a penalty stroke and a chance to tie up the game after trailing for the majority of the second half.
Rose was able to fire a shot into the left side of the cage, as Liberty goalie Irigoyen Iritxity shifted completely to the right side, leaving the cage wide open as the game would be tied at two apiece.
The clock eventually expired in regulation and the matchup went into overtime.
Maryland had the first penalty of the corner of overtime, which it wasn’t able to convert, and then Liberty made a push in the period later on. The Flames drew a penalty corner with around three minutes left, but Frost made a huge statement in net. She stopped two consecutive tries from deep to keep Liberty from scoring the game-winner.
No winner was determined after 10 minutes of extra time as another period of overtime was needed.
The second overtime saw the Terps increase their defensive focus and offensive intensity. With under three minutes in the second overtime, Liberty got into transition, with a goal by Vaanhold that crashed into the right side of the cage above Frost, to end Maryland’s title hopes and send Liberty to its first-ever NCAA National Championship appearance in school history.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s defense in the first half continued to impress. The Terps’ defense has been a complete problem for their opponents in the first half recently. Led by Frost in net, Maryland has not allowed a single goal in the first half of its three games in the NCAA Tournament. Frost has been making great sacrifices to hold Liberty out of the cage, with her being unafraid of stepping out of the cage to show a physical presence to deter the Flames from firing a goal at her cage. Liberty managed six shots in the opening half and Frost had to come up with four saves, but Maryland’s defense in the first 30 minutes was strong nonetheless.
2. The Terps outshot the Flames, but their low-scoring woes haunted them. Entering Friday’s matchup, Maryland struggled with converting its shots into goals. Dating back to its loss to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament, the Terps hadn’t scored more than two goals in a game. They had two against Penn State, then they had two apiece in the matchups in the NCAA Tournament with No. 13 Virginia and No. 10 Syracuse. This time, the scoring woes finally came back to bite Maryland, as it finished with just two goals in the loss. Maryland did finish with 31 shots, though, while Liberty had 16.
3. Maryland’s season ends with a heartbreaking defeat to Liberty. The Terps dropped a close game to Liberty in the Final Four, after not registering a goal until after they were down 2-0 in the third quarter. A goal from Liberty in the final minutes of the second overtime sent the Flames to their first NCAA title game appearance.