The Penn State women’s lacrosse team is solidifying itself as one of the nation’s top programs.
The Nittany Lions locked up their 15th trip to the NCAA semifinals Sunday afternoon, including their second straight final four appearance.
“It’s a great statement for us,” coach Missy Doherty said. “We feel like we’re one of the top teams out there and it’s awesome to be going to back-to-back final fours.”
Even down a goal with less than six minutes to play, Doherty’s team didn’t panic.
Three straight goals did the trick as the No. 4-seeded Nittany Lions held off No. 5 Princeton 14-12 at the Penn State lacrosse field.
Kayla Brisolari scored the winner with 3:42 to go and Katie O’Donnell netted her third goal of the game to ice it. Penn State (17-3) will face Big Ten rival Maryland at 5 p.m. Friday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Penn State will be seeking its sixth title and first since 1999.
A pair of unseeded surprises meet in the 7:30 p.m. semifinal with Navy and Boston College.
Freshman Maria Auth had her biggest game as a Nittany Lion, scoring four goals, including three in the game’s first 13:09.
“That was honestly, probably the best feeling I’ve ever experienced,” Auth said. “I’ve never really experienced anything like that.”
Madison Carter added three goals, giving her 69 for the season to set the school single-season record for a sophomore, and other scores came from Taylor Bleistein, Maggie Gallagher and Abby Smucker.
Olivia Hompe’s three goals led the Tigers (15-4) while two each came from Ellie McNulty and Elizabeth George, and one each from Colby Chanenchuk, Kathryn Hallett, Allie Rogers and Emma Doherty.
But Hompe, who leads the nation with 75 goals and is Princeton’s all-time scoring leader, also was denied late to preserve the win. The senior broke in on the goal in the final seconds, but goalie Cat Rainone denied the shot, then started jumping around in celebration with the ball still on her stick.
“That last save she had there at the end, I was like, ‘Stop jumping! Stop jumping,’ ” O’Donnell said. “We still had eight seconds on the clock.”
Rainone finished with 13 saves, including two in the final minute.
“She came up huge in the last few minutes,” Tigers coach Chris Sailer said. “She made some big saves that totally would have put us right in there again. That one on the fast break was just kind of unbelievable.”
The game was filled with swings of momentum in both directions, and the Tigers had grabbed the lead with 5:56 left on Emma Doherty’s score.
The advantage lasted just 36 seconds, however, as Auth netted her fourth of the game to tie it again.
With 3:44 left, George was handed a yellow card and sent off to serve a penalty, giving Penn State a man advantage and Brisolari a free position opportunity.
“That was pretty tough to take,” Sailer said. “It was a goal at a pretty critical part of the game.”
Brisolari looked over to the Penn State bench for advice, and since it was a tie game, Missy Doherty wanted the sophomore to go for a shot if she was open. Brisolari made it for her 12th goal of the season.
Two minutes later, O’Donnell, who missed a few minutes midway through the first half with a turned ankle, added the insurance tally with her 61st goal of the season.
Neither team led by more than two, and the lead changed hands six times in the second half.
“It wasn’t a game where either team could feel like you can breathe, you have this,” Sailer said. “It was back and forth, the lead kept changing.”
A year ago, Penn State made it to the national semifinals in Chester before falling to eventual champion North Carolina. This time, Maryland (21-0) stands in the way, but the Nittany Lions are looking forward to a rematch with the Big Ten champions.
“We knew from the beginning of the fall that it was a special team,” Doherty said. “They go out and prove it.”