BALTIMORE — Attacker Brindi Griffin threw her hands into the air. Defender Julia Braig sprinted all the way up the field. Coach Cathy Reese turned to the bench and let out a yell. Meanwhile, defender Lizzie Colson threw her stick to the ground and wheeled away in celebration.
Within seconds, Colson was mobbed by all 10 other outfield players after burying her first goal since February 2017 for Maryland women’s lacrosse. She scooped up the loose ball and swerved her way through Penn State’s defense, and her finish put the Terps up five goals with 10 minutes before halftime in the Big Ten tournament semifinal.
Maryland would only add onto that lead, eventually dispatching the Nittany Lions 15-8 on Friday to secure the team’s fourth straight Big Ten tournament championship game appearance.
“Proud of our team and how we kind of handled the pressure of a conference tournament,” Reese said.
Penn State struck first, though, just over a minute into the contest. Attacker Maria Auth wriggled into space and fired a left-handed shot past goalkeeper Megan Taylor.
The Maryland response was immediate. On their first possession, the Terps worked the ball around the arc to attacker Brindi Griffin, who drew a foul behind the cage. She found midfielder Erica Evans off the ensuing free position, and the graduate transfer made no mistake from close range.
“To have the ability to respond like that is great,” Reese said. “We didn’t have multiple goals against [us, which] allowed that run to happen.”
Evans added her second a minute later, this time going solo and finishing into the bottom corner. A flicked shot from attacker Kali Hartshorn made it 3-1 Maryland. The Terps converted three of their first five attempts to open the game, putting together efficient first possessions early.
“Whoever was feeding me found me,” Evans said, “and just gave me that opportunity.”
Penn State pulled one back after a slew of opportunities. The Nittany Lions missed three solid looks in a row before midfielder Kristin Roberto squeezed a shot beyond Taylor.
The game devolved into a scrappier affair midway through the first half as the Terps tried to find inroads through isolation play, which yielded few good opportunities. Meanwhile, Penn State moved the ball quickly, drawing fouls in the offensive zone. But the Maryland defense held firm, forcing contested looks and leaving the Nittany Lions shooting 20 percent through the first 15 minutes.
Evans was on hand once again to extend the lead for the Terps. The graduate transfer attacked the cage off a free position and finished past goalkeeper Taylor Suplee for her 300th career point just over 14 minutes in.
“Obviously it’s a great accomplishment,” Evans said. “But we’ve got a lot more to do.”
Two minutes later, Hartshorn extended the lead to 5-2 with a flashy behind-the-back scoop. And Evans finished her fourth of the day to give the Terps a 6-2 edge.
“[Evans] is so huge to our transition game,” Reese said. “She’s such a great shooter, she has such a quick release. If we can get her the ball in these situations she’s gonna come through.”
However, Penn State stuck around. With the game opening up, the two teams exchanged scores. Midfielder Quinn Nikolai buried one for the Nittany Lions from short range before a near-post snipe from midfielder Grace Griffin. Soon after, Colson’s unlikely coast-to-coast finish made it 8-3 Terps.
“I saw the opportunity, and kind of just went for it,” Colson said.
Maryland entered halftime up, 10-5, and continued rolling after it. Brindi Griffin sidestepped her defender and deftly bounced a shot over the outstretched stick of Suplee, extending the Maryland lead to six.
Penn State continued to stick around, blanking the Terps for the next eight minutes while adding a goal of its own. The deficit would have been further shaved were it not for Taylor. She produced two big saves to hold the Maryland lead while her offense struggled to find openings.
“Megan’s always had that intense competitive edge to her,” Colson said. “It really comes out this time of year.”
But the Terps got back on the board in short order. Nine minutes into the second half, attacker Catie May scored from a tight angle, augmenting the Maryland advantage to seven. Colson was instrumental in another Maryland goal two minutes later, starting a fast break that ended with an easy finish for attacker Caroline Steele.
After Grace Griffin nailed her third goal of the day with nine minutes remaining, the Terps started rotating their lineup. Defender Meghan Doherty, Grace Griffin, May, Steele, Hartshorn and Evans all sat as Reese used the remaining time bring fresh legs into the contest.
And the new faces saw out the game. Although Penn State tacked on two more scores, Maryland cruised to its 18th consecutive win this season and fourth Big Ten tournament championship game in a row.
“We have to make sure that we’re prepared — with obviously a quick turnaround — and ready to play on Sunday,” Reese said.