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Maryland women’s lacrosse moves on to Big Ten Tournament title game with 15-9 win over Rutgers

The Terps advanced to the championship game for the eighth straight season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Senior midfielder Shaylan Ahearn may be known for her draw control prowess, but she also demonstrated her deft offensive abilities in No.2-seed Maryland women’s lacrosse’s thrashing of No. 6-seed Rutgers.

With just 14 seconds remaining in the first half and Maryland leading 9-1, Ahearn won the draw control outright. From there, she weaved her way through the Scarlet Knight defense and capped off the Terps’ best half the season with a score. Maryland carried that momentum into the second half and ran away with a 15-9 victory in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.

“I think that the goal going into halftime was a good kind of momentum,” Ahearn said. “It was just a result of everyone kind of working together and being on the same page.”

After Maryland won the opening draw control, freshman midfielder Kori Edmondson immediately worked the ball into the offensive end and was fouled inside the 12-meter fan.

The Terps kept their composure. Working the ball around the perimeter just once, the ball found senior attacker Hannah Leubecker at the top of the fan. After receiving the pass, she made a swift dodge into the gut of the defense and scored the game’s first goal.

On the next possession, Rutgers senior midfielder Cassidy Spilis earned herself a free position shot, but was unsuccessful.

The save transitioned into offense for the Terps, with junior midfielder Shannon Smith planting herself directly in front of Rutgers goalkeeper Sophia Cardello. The feed by junior attacker Chrissy Thomas helped facilitate the score.

The game’s pace slowed just a bit after the goal, as a turnover and a couple of fouls ensued. In addition, Maryland committed a shot-clock violation. However, the Terps’ ball movement remained rapid. The Rutgers defense was simply too sluggish on its switches and defensive assignments, resulting in open shooters. Smith scored her second, and May netted her first halfway through the opening quarter to put the Terps up 4-0.

Maryland never let up, and its relentless pressure resulted in yet another score. This time, junior midfielder Eloise Clevenger was the beneficiary of yet another Thomas dime. It was her fourth assist in just the first 10 minutes of play.

The first frame ended with the Terps firmly in control, holding a 6-0 lead.

Maryland continued its dominant run in the second frame, with Clevenger capitalizing right off the bat. It was just her third hat trick of the campaign.

Back-to-back saves from Cardello allowed the Scarlet Knights more opportunities on offense, but the Terps’ staunch defense stayed locked in. Even a point-blank free position chance failed to produce a score.

Maryland’s onslaught continued. Quick ball movement from Thomas to Clevenger resulted in another score. The one-two punch, operating from behind the cage, confused the Scarlet Knight defenders. Clevenger has been the distributor for the majority of the season, but adapted nicely to a scoring role on Thursday.

Rutgers finally cashed in at the 3:36 mark of the second quarter, when graduate attacker Marin Hartshorn beat Sterling for the score, but two late scores by May and Ahearn put Maryland up 10-1 at the half.

The third quarter began with a draw control win by Rutgers and was paired with a quick score. Hartshorn made a distinct cut to the front of the net and put in an easy goal.

The Terps maintained their first-half intensity, earning a free position shot within the first three minutes of play. However, the attempt was unsuccessful and Maryland ended up committing another shot-clock violation.

After consecutive turnovers, the Scarlet Knights capitalized once more on offense, cutting the Terrapin lead to seven.

Maryland’s third quarter approach revolved around taking ample time off the clock. In some cases, it backfired. However, Thomas ended the near-half-quarter of scoreless lacrosse for the Terps, swinging around the left side of the cage for a top-shelf score.

Speedster junior attacker Kate Sites capped off the quarter with a fantastic score, and Maryland led Rutgers 12-4 after three quarters.

Less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, Ahearn netted her second goal of the night. Shortly after, Rutgers scored the first free position goal of the night, cutting Maryland’s lead to eight.

Some fouls and long possessions later, Edmondson netted Maryland’s first free position goal of the game. Rutgers gave its best effort to stay in the contest, but the lead that Maryland carved out in the first half proved to be insurmountable.

The Terps will face No. 1-seed Northwestern on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio for the Big Ten Tournament championship.

“We’re so excited to be playing on Saturday,” Thomas said. “We’re ready for another challenge.”

Three things to know

1. Maryland had one of its best halves of the season. Maryland played a flawless opening half. It dominated Rutgers in almost every major statistical category. The shots were 20-9 in favor of the Terps and they won nine draw controls, opposed to just four for the Scarlet Knights.

What was most salient about the first half was the pace of play — which Maryland dictated. The energy that flowed through the squad was palpable, and it will be important for it to maintain this level of confidence on Saturday.

“I thought our first half was probably our best half we played this season,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “We came out on fire, we came out focused and we came out driven.”

2. A record-setting night. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet on offense Thursday for the Terps. The tandem of Thomas and Clevenger shined, and both produced staggering results. Thomas recorded a career-high six assists, while Clevenger marked a season-high four goals.

“They’ve been getting better all season and just learning how each other operate, learning ways to attack and ways to be dangerous,” Reese said. “It’s awesome to see and we’ve watched them continue to get better every game.”

Furthermore, Ahearn recorded an astonishing 10 draw controls on the night. Her excellence at the circle resulted in significant possessions for the Terrapins. She also contributed two scores.

3. The defense shined. The collective effort of the defense was admirable Thursday. It allowed just 23 total shots by the Scarlet Knights, and also forced the Rutgers offense into committing a hefty 13 turnovers, with eight coming in the second half. Spilis, the team’s leading scorer, was held just to one score on the evening.

“I thought the defense played great together,” Reese said. “I don’t like the two man-up goals we gave up at the end ... we did a good job of trying to limit [Hartshorn and Spilis].”