Attacker Brindi Griffin lined up for No. 11 Maryland women’s lacrosse’s seventeenth free position opportunity against No. 24 Rutgers with 33 seconds left in the game.
The fifth year senior was given another opportunity after she was fouled on her first attempt — the team’s sixteenth. After the Terps converted on seven such goals on the day, a huge opportunity to cut the deficit to one goal was high and wide, leading to Rutgers winding down the clock.
It was a game of runs for the Terps, as Maryland had scored five goals to start the second half after scoring just four times in the first. After going cold down the stretch, the final five minutes saw the Terps score five additional times.
In the end, the comeback was just too large to topple, as Rutgers handed Maryland its first-ever loss against the Scarlet Knights, 16-14.
“We had spurts where we did things really well and then long droughts where we didn’t,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “This is a day for us to kind of reset, recharge and get ready to prepare for the Big Ten tournament.”
As the senior class for the Scarlet Knights was honored in Piscataway, New Jersey, Maryland looked to end its regular season as spoilers and carry a two-game winning streak into the Big Ten tournament.
Maryland ceded a first possession score by the hands of attacker Marin Hartshorn, with the Terps falling apart defensively in the latter half of the shot clock.
Those defensive misfortunes continued in the next opportunity for Rutgers, as a foul by defender Maddie Sanchez with five seconds left on the shot clock gave the Scarlet Knights a late opportunity.
With the home team failing to convert, midfielder Shaylan Ahearn responded on the other end with a free position goal to tie the match at one. A second free position goal for Maryland came next, this time being Griffin off of a scorching sidewinding shot.
The success from the 8-meter kept on coming, as once again Griffin fired in a goal. Leading 3-1 with 5:40 gone by in the game, Maryland was a perfect 3-3 from the free position.
Those were the only three shots taken by the Terps in the early going, a strong testament to the tempo that Maryland was expected to play at against a defense like Rutgers.
“We played against a team whose style of defense is to give up free positions and that’s what they choose to do because they’re not afraid to put people on the 8-meter,” Reese said. “Three more of those to be 10-17 is the difference in the game.”
After a jumped route by defender Lizzie Colson segued into a long outlet pass to attacker Libby May, May executed the 3-on-2 fast break to perfection as she dished it off to Griffin to put a stamp on a first half hat trick for the fifth year senior.
In the blink of an eye, however, Rutgers rattled off two goals to tie it at four. Both scores were products of the Scarlet Knights’ play behind the net, with Hartshorn and attacker Jenna Byrne being the aggressors.
Neither team could find much success following a lead-taking score from Rutgers at the 17:31 mark, but the Scarlet Knights were far more persistent on the offensive end, firing in 13 shots compared to Maryland’s nine.
The power outage on offense left the Terps scratching their heads as they found themselves trailing 8-4 at halftime. Just over 20 minutes had gone by without a Terrapin score, as offensive inefficiency trickled back into Maryland’s on-field play.
After starting 3-3 from the 8-meter, Maryland missed five straight. They headed into the intermission needing some major soul-searching to try and salvage this match.
Immediately out of the half, midfielder Grace Griffin fired in another free position goal for the Terps to finally end its scoreless drought. Attacker Hannah Leubecker was then able to squeak a low shot past goalkeeper Sophia Cardello, cutting the deficit to two.
As Maryland seemed to be shifting the momentum in their favor, a yellow card from Colson led to a free position conversion by midfielder Cassidy Spilis. But the Terps kept at it, as Grace Griffin made good use of another free position chance to bring it back down to a two-goal game.
After Leubecker made it a one score game, a Rutgers timeout aimed to stifle Maryland’s sudden surge on the offensive end. Brindi Griffin didn’t let that break phase the Terrapins, as she scored her fourth of the day on yet another free position score.
After scoring just four goals in the first half — which was bookended by a 20:45 scoring drought — the Terps were up to five in the first 5:46 in the second half.
Rutgers broke the tie via midfielder Ashley Campo’s cut down the middle before Spilis retook a multi-score lead for the Scarlet Knights. Attacker Taralyn Naslonski and midfielder Ashley Moynahan padded Rutgers’s run, forcing Maryland into a timeout.
After tying the game at nine, Maryland let Rutgers score four times in just over three minutes. It was as clear as any point in the season just how streaky the Terps have been and with just over 15 minutes remaining in the half, Maryland needed to piece together another run fast.
The run wouldn’t stop, as Rutgers now inflicted its stake on the 8-meter with two straight to add onto its massive run to end the match, taking a 15-9 lead.
Rutgers added another goal to make it a seven-goal lead with just under nine minutes remaining, but Maryland didn’t go down without a fight thanks to five quick goals from Leubecker (3) and Ahearn (2).
The Terps collected draw controls at a rapid pace and set up its offense with a sense of urgency, but in the end, it was just too little too late for the Terrapins.
Three things to know
1. The opportunities were there. Maryland struggled all day to convert. They mustered up 17 opportunities from the free position, yet only succeeded on seven of those chances. They also limited turnovers tremendously compared to their previous outing versus Rutgers, committing ten giveaways and just four unforced. The Terps led in the draw control department by a margin of six and even matched the Scarlet Knights’s shots on goal tally.
The biggest drawback from this effort was the play of Cardello in net for the Scarlet Knights, as the freshman compiled ten saves on the afternoon. Maryland was deterred from mounting a tremendous comeback in the final minutes, but aside from those waning moments of the match, Maryland failed to consistently convert.
“It starts even before the game with focusing,” Leubecker said. “I think sometimes we tend to wait until things aren’t going our way or until we get a specific play that kind of gives us momentum to get out and run. We just need to figure out how to get that energy beforehand and really come out with that urgency at the first whistle.”
2. Brindi Griffin continued her late-season surge. The fifth year senior has been on fire of late, emerging as a bright spot amidst the offensive struggles that have plagued the Terps this season. After just a single hat trick in the team’s first eight games, Griffin has rattled off four straight. Griffin is no stranger to finishing a season out strong, as she made a name for herself during Maryland’s 2019 national championship run, and began to find her rhythm in the final two games of 2020 prior to the season’s cancellation. Her four goals against Rutgers today may be a sign of what's to come down the home stretch.
3. Maryland embarks on a prolonged break. With the Big Ten tournament not starting until Apr. 29, the Terrapins will have extended time off before starting its postseason schedule. The question is whether or not that is a blessing or a curse.
On one hand, Maryland will have time to work out its issues over the next week and a half in preparation for the playoffs. But on the other hand, not seeing any game action for a period of time could spell trouble for the Terps in adjusting to their opponents.
“I think it’ll be really beneficial for us,” Reese said. “Our bodies can use a break ... just to have the opportunity to reset and get back to the drawing board and really kind of dive into what we want to create out of this season.”