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Behind its strong defense, Maryland women’s lacrosse defeats Johns Hopkins, 8-7

Despite building an early lead and playing stout defense, the Terps had to hold on down the wire to take down the Blue Jays.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With No. 3 seed Johns Hopkins making a late push after never leading against No. 2 Maryland women’s lacrosse in Friday’s Big Ten tournament semi-final matchup, the Terrapin defense needed to unlock its stardom seen in the first-half shutout.

Look no further than unanimous First Team All-Big Ten defender Lizzie Colson. The Blue Jays worked the ball around as they looked for the equalizer down one goal with just over a minute left, but the pass from attacker Eliza Bowman was read beautifully by Colson.

Colson’s jump on the errant pass by Bowman led to Maryland being able to run down the clock and escape yet another close showdown against Hopkins, prevailing 8-7 to advance to Sunday’s championship game.

“I was thinking in that moment, ‘You have to get this ball. If you don’t, she’s gonna run and score.’” Colson said. “So once I got that ball, I was just running full steam ahead and making sure I got into the attacking end safely.”

Part three of this reignited in-state rivalry kicked off with a lot on the line, as the chance to move on to the Big Ten tournament final under the lights of Panzer Stadium was set.

The physicality from both teams was on full display from the start, as the two combined for seven ground balls in the first ten minutes. A turnover apiece drove home the defensive intensity of the opening minutes, but it was a forced giveaway by defender Tori Barretta that segued into the first score of the contest.

Attacker Brindi Griffin roped in a low shot past goaltender Kathleen Garvey to make it 1-0 before attacker Hannah Warther found the back of the net for her 19th score of the season, extending the lead to two.

Maryland continued to be patient on the offensive end, winding down the shot clock to under 20 seconds before Grace Griffin fired in the team’s third goal. After forcing another turnover, Maryland scored yet again at the 12:12 mark.

With the offense beginning to click up 4-0, Maryland’s defense executed an all-around shutdown of the Blue Jays offense.

Hopkins struggled to get many of its shots to come close. Credit goes to goaltender Emily Sterling for locking down the interior, but unsung heroes such as defenders Kacy Hogarth and Barretta were instrumental in the first-half shutout.

Not only was the eight-meter defense as stellar as it has been of late, but the defense in transition by its midfielders and even its attackers was phenomenal.

“We put [Hopkins] in places where Emily was able to make the saves,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “That first half for us defensively was probably the best we’ve had this season.”

The Terrapins could have put this game away, but its offense didn’t get much past a stingy Hopkins defense. Still, the Terps pitched a rare shutout in the first half, taking a 4-0 lead into the intermission.

For both Hopkins and Maryland in the quarter-finals, it was a tale of two halves. Maryland led Michigan 12-3, while the Blue Jays led Penn State 9-2. Despite the strong opening 30, both games were tight down the stretch.

Maryland flexed its guns on defense in the first half, but the offense didn’t reciprocate. With the game still in reach for the Blue Jays, the second half was set up to be a highly anticipated duel.

After going 34:04 without a score in this one, Johns Hopkins finally eliminated the goose egg on the scoreboard via midfielder Abbey Hurlbrink. Suddenly, after not scoring in the first half, Hopkins scored twice more, cutting the deficit to one.

Needing a response fast, Maryland scooped up just its third draw control of the game, which led to Grace Griffin’s second score of the game and her 100th career goal to make it 5-3.

Attacker Hannah Leubecker then fired in her seventh goal of the weekend to bring it back to a three-goal lead with 22:43 remaining.

A lull period began for the next 9:26 of game time, with eight turnovers (5 from JHU, 3 from UMD) defining the midpoint stretch. It wasn’t until Grace Griffin’s hat trick sealer finally put something on the scoreboard, pushing it the Terps lead back to four.

Hopkins answered quickly thereafter thanks to attacker Aurora Cordingley’s first score of the postseason. The Blue Jays then converted on its first free position score in 13 attempts against the Terps this season to make it a 7-5 game.

Hurlbrink kept the Hopkins run going with the team’s sixth goal of the half at the 7:46 mark, but attacker Libby May came up with a huge goal two minutes later off of the dish from Grace Griffin.

Hopkins responded with 4:04 remaining thanks to Cordingley’s second score of the half, setting the scene for yet another wire-to-wire finish between these two Maryland foes.

The finish was as advertised with Johns Hopkins refusing to quit, but in the end, the defense by the Terrapins came up clutch as they had all night, snatching another one-goal victory against Hopkins to advance to play Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament final.

Maryland is now 22-0 all-time against Hopkins, but all three meetings have seen the Blue Jays ramp up its competitiveness and lose by just one score. This narrow finish once again established Hopkins as legitimate threat to the upper echelon of Big Ten women’s lacrosse.

“I give them a lot of credit they came out they fought and they go hard and hustle all over the place and they gave us a great game,” midfielder Grace Griffin said. “I think it just comes down to grit and playing for each other. We were there, we were ready and we were playing together, not as individuals.”

Three things to know

1. The Terps are gearing up for a big matchup against Northwestern. The Terps have played its best lacrosse of the season in the first halves of their respective Big Ten tournament matchups. In the quarter-finals, Maryland’s offense rifled in 12 goals in the opening half. Then in tonight’s semi-final, the defense pitched an opening half shutout. These two components will now have to mold with one another for a full 60-minute effort in the championship game, especially when factoring in the caliber of its opponent.

“Even if we aren’t giving up goals, we need to be able to answer on the offensive end,” Reese said. “This isn’t like a one end or the other thing. It’s just kind of the flow of the game that we need to do a better job of controlling.”

Northwestern hasn’t lost this season. They have defeated Maryland twice this season (both by double digits) and host the nation’s best offense. Maryland will enter Sunday’s title game as heavy underdogs, but this recent stretch of play this weekend offers some hope in the Terps pulling off the massive upset.

2. Draw controls were lacking. Maryland’s offense fed off of its defense, but the draw circle was an area of criticism in their efforts tonight. The low-scoring affairs of today’s game certainly took away from those chances, but the offense couldn’t get settled early thanks to just one draw control compared to Johns Hopkins’s four in the first half. The margin actually ended up favoring the Terrapins, 10-6, but this portion of the game will need to see a vast improvement against a Northwestern squad that averages 19.36 a game, the best mark in the conference.

3. The Terps held onto their lead all game. The first two times these two teams met earlier this season this was not the case. On Mar. 12, Maryland held a two-goal advantage in the latter portion of the second half — much like today. But the difference was that Maryland couldn’t hold off Johns Hopkins’s equalizer efforts, which eventually forced the match into overtime.

The second time they played, on April 14, Hopkins jumped out to the early lead seven and half minutes into the game and scored again a few minutes later. The Terps did not grab the lead until late in the first half and the two teams traded the lead multiple times throughout the rest of the matchup. On Friday night, the Terps did not waiver and were able to hold on to their advantage for a full 60 minutes.

“We really took care of the ball in clears and that was something that really helped us just in getting the ball into the attacking hands,” Colson said. “Cathy only recruits people who want to fight and want to be on the field in [close] situations and I think tonight that showed.”