The Penn State women’s lacrosse team could not realistically ask to be in a better position.
No. 1 Maryland had led at halftime of every game this season until Thursday. In only one game had the Terrapins trailed in the second half until Thursday.
In the end, however, the No. 5 Nittany Lions could not close it out.
Maryland used a late-game 4-1 run to wrap up a 16-14 victory, clinching at least a share of the Big Ten title and ending the Nittany Lions’ seven-game win streak.
“I thought their run at the end kind of hurt us a little bit,” said Katie O’Donnell, who netted five goals. “Tonight we just couldn’t come out with the ‘W.’”
The win gave the Terps a dozen straight in the series, and they have taken 28 of 29 against the Lions dating back to 1992.
Kali Hartshorn’s four goals and one assist and Caroline Steele’s three goals led Maryland (16-0, 5-0 Big Ten). Two goals each came from Zoe Stukenberg, Jen Giles, Megan Whittle and Taylor Hensh.
Penn State (14-2, 4-1) was paced by its 1-2 scoring punch of Madison Carter, who had six goals, and O’Donnell. Carter has a team-high 58 goals and O’Donnell has 47. Steph Lazo added two goals and three assists and has 41 goals on the season.
“In games like this your leaders want to step up,” coach Missy Doherty said. “Madison definitely played really aggressive, and they needed her today. She really wanted the ball.”
Just before the midpoint of the second half, an O’Donnell score with her back to the net had Penn State trailing by just a goal, and the Nittany Lions were hoping to sustain the momentum.
But the Terrapins took off over a seven-minute stretch, first with Hensh and Whittle goals 1:11 apart, then after a Lazo score, Hensh and Giles scored goals for a 16-12 lead with just 3:48 remaining.
“Lacrosse is like a game of runs, it’s like a roller coaster up-and-down,” Carter said. “They kind of got the best of us in that little run of theirs.”
Penn State’s biggest trouble spot in the second half were draw controls. The Terrapins held a 12-7 edge in draws after the break, allowing for either quick back-to-back strikes, as they did twice, or a fast response to a Penn State score, which also happened twice.
“In the second half we couldn’t quite get the momentum because we couldn’t get the draw,” Doherty said. “They kept getting possession after possession.”
Maryland also kept up the offensive pressure, holding a 42-29 shot advantage. Cat Rainone was busy, making 15 saves.
“Maryland was a good test for us,” Rainone said. “It shows our weaknesses. I think that was the fastest attack we’ve seen all year.”
Her counterpart, Megan Taylor, had seven stops.
Penn State nearly took a lead into intermission, but a Steele goal with 1:37 left thwarted that plan. Still, with no team even drawing to a tie at halftime on Maryland all season, it was a victory of sorts.
And when Lazo scored 1:39 into the second half, the Nittany Lions joined Virginia as the only teams to hold a lead on the nation’s best team after the break.
The lead didn’t last. Whittle scored 1:12 later and Stukenberg found the net 1:07 after that to put the Terps back in front. And after a Carter tally, Hartshorn and Caroline Wennen scored back-to-back 1:35 apart and the Maryland never again lost the lead.
“It was just a battle when the ball was on the ground,” Carter said of the frustration of losing the draws that led to the quick goals. “We’ve got to work on getting those 50-50 balls.”
Even managing to keep the game so close, Doherty was not interested in moral victories.
“We’re at a point now we know we can compete,” said Doherty, whose team closes its regular-season schedule at Michigan on April 30. “It’s not kind of little, small victories in the things you’re doing. This is a team we want to beat.”