#2 Northwestern Edges #3 UNC on Late Goal

STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- With the game tied at 10, two minutes to play and the right to play for the national title on the line, there was little doubt whose stick Northwestern would put the ball in. As she's done all season, junior Shannon Smith answered the call for a crunch-time goal, scoring with 18 seconds remaining to send NU past No. 3 North Carolina, 11-10, and into its seventh consecutive NCAA championship game.

The Wildcats (20-2) will face top-seeded Maryland at 3:00 p.m. CT Sunday in Stony Brook, N.Y., in a rematch of the 2010 national title game. The game will air live on the Big Ten Network.

"We had our ups and downs today, but as we showed throughout the season, we have a strong will to win," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, now 27-2 in her career in the NCAA Championship. "We made things happen when the going was tough and I think our girls really stepped up and made plays when necessary."

Smith scored a team-best four goals Friday night, raising her total to 82 to eclipse the previous Northwestern single-season goals record of 81 set by Hilary Bowen in 2008. The record-setter and game-winner came after nearly two minutes of Smith surveying the defense and waiting for the right moment to go for the last shot of the game. After being fouled behind the net, Smith came out of the restart and deftly split a double-team on her way to finishing an easy one-on-one chance with the goalie.

"I ran to the goal and the one girl who was doubling me slid off and then I just took the girl one-on-one and got lucky that it went in," said Smith, a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award and Honda Sports Award in lacrosse. "I had all the confidence in myself, I like the last shot, that's what you play for as an athlete. I knew it was going in when I had it."

Northwestern twice held three-goal leads in the game only to have a resilient Tar Heel squad come back to tie, including a 10-7 advantage with just over 10 minutes remaining. The count remained tied at 10 for nearly seven minutes in the late stages of the game until Smith's heroics with 18 seconds left. The 'Cats' victory was sealed when Taylor Thornton recovered the ensuing draw control.

Despite being outshot in the game 30-19, Northwestern took advantage of seven caused turnovers as well as timely goalkeeping by junior Brianne LoManto, who finished with seven saves.

On Northwestern's first possession of the evening, sophomore Erin Fitzgerald converted off a restart for her 37th goal of the season. After pressure from the NU defense turned the ball over, Shannon Smith fed a cutting Kelly Rich, who buried a left-handed shot inside the left post for her 20th goal of the year and a 2-0 NU lead.

That advantage grew to three less than a minute later when Smith was on the receiving end of a Gabriella Flibotte pass and scored with 21:39 to go in the first half.

Following another empty possession by UNC, senior Brooke Matthews made it 4-1 when she stepped up to convert a free position opportunity. Moments later, Brianne LoManto stonewalled UNC's Abbey Friend, but the Heels recovered the ground ball and scored to cut the deficit to two.

A shot on the doorstep by Smith appeared to restore a three-goal lead, but the goal was disallowed when Smith was ruled to have stepped in the crease. North Carolina capitalized on the turn of events with a free position goal by Laura Zimmerman that set the score at 4-3.

UNC made it a 3-0 run off a restart from behind the cage with 4:28 remaining before the intermission. But Port Jefferson native Jessica Russo stemmed the tide when she created in traffic on the crease and scored her 22nd goal, becoming the fifth different Wildcat to score on the night.

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2011-05-28



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