Penn State goalie Emi Smith took a few steps from the cage as her teammates sprinted her way.
Madison Carter had just burned the final seconds off the clock to complete Penn State’s 8-4 win over No. 7 seed Penn in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals Saturday.
While Carter, Katie O’Donnell and Ally Heavens embraced at the offensive end, the rest of the team ran to Smith at the defensive end, where the Nittany Lions held Penn’s offensive attack in check and seized momentum during the 60 minutes of action on the field.
Smith was at the center of the celebration of a victory that clinched Penn State’s first trip to the final four since 1999. The goalie finished with eight saves as part of an effort that held the Quakers to two goals in the final 52:31.
“Our defense just played out of their minds today,” Penn State coach Missy Doherty said.
The Nittany Lions (14-6) will take on No. 3 North Carolina in the final four on Friday at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester. The Tar Heels beat No. 6 Notre Dame 10-6 in their quarterfinal matchup Saturday.
Madison Cyr had two goals and two assists to lead the Nittany Lions offensively.
The Quakers (15-5) jumped out to an early 2-0 lead after goals by Caroline Cummings and Catherine Dickinson, while the Nittany Lions managed just one shot in the first 10 minutes.
Kelly Daggett got Penn State on the board with 19:34 left in the first half.
“Our offense is counting on players like her to step up when they’re marking our leading scorers well,” Doherty said. “It was huge.”
The Nittany Lions closed the first half with six unanswered goals.
Twenty-two seconds after Daggett scored, Cyr found the back of the net to tie the game. Jenna Mosketti, Maggie Gallagher, Steph Lazo and Carter each added goals to send Penn State into halftime with a 6-2 lead.
The Nittany Lions continued to play lockdown defense in the second half.
Penn State shut down Penn’s Nina Corcoran, the nation’s leader in assists with 58 and the team’s leader in points with 85. Nittany Lions defender Lucy Haubold stuck close to Corcoran and tried to deny her any easy catches. When Corcoran did get the ball, calls of “17” — Corcoran’s number — came from the sideline and circulated around the field.
Corcoran didn’t score, didn’t record an assist, and took one shot.
“She did a great job on her all game long,” Doherty said of Haubold. “And I think when she did get the ball, our team supported her behind, not letting her get some of the feeds she’d been able to get in all season.”
When Penn did generate shots, Smith was tough in net.
“The defense did a great job about forcing them in a certain direction where I could make a great save or an easier save than just a one-on-one opportunity,” Smith said. “They worked so hard down the field and I just wanted to back them up.”
She finished with five saves in the second half to help Penn State seal the victory and reach the final four.
“We’re really fortunate to come up within this tournament so far with some big wins and actually some good learning experiences to go into such a tough final four next week,” Doherty said. “I just said final four for the first time.
“So it’s really exciting and it’s something that we really just try to stay in the moment, but it’s a huge step for our program.”