Maci Bradford stood at the top of the shooting circle waiting for Maryland’s penalty corner insert. The Terps and Rutgers were knotted at one goal each in the final minutes of Friday’s semifinal match, heightening the importance for the freshman to deliver.
The shot came in and Bradford, who waited near the net, played the deflection off the Scarlet Knights’ goaltender’s pads and tapped a backhanded shot that found the net.
The late Maryland goal broke a tie and pushed the Terps to a 2-1 victory in the Big Ten tournament semifinal, avenging last year’s loss at the same stage to advance to face top-seeded Northwestern in title game Sunday night.
“We’ve always worked on getting in the right position for corner rebounding and I knew that it was tied 1-1 and we had to finish so we could get to the championship game,” Bradford said. “I just put it in.”
The teams began evenly paced and deployed high-pressure looks across the field. Maryland tried maneuvering around that defense with short give-and-go passes, but the Scarlet Knights’ backline, led by star goalie Sophia Howard, held strong and prevented a breakthrough.
The first half ended without an offensive breakthrough. Maryland finished the first 30 minutes with just two shots on goal and no penalty corners. Rutgers also ended the half with minimal opportunities.
“The first and second quarters, we were very disorganized,” Meharg said. “Just really didn’t have it on the front foot, almost looked a little leg tired from yesterday.”
Maryland and Rutgers entered the game with experience in close matches like Friday’s. Their last meetup reached double overtime and penalty strokes before the Scarlet Knights edged out a 3-2 win.
The Scarlet Knights ended the defensive battle in the third quarter. Josie Hollamon dove across the turf with an outstretched stick, but her reach was just short of stopping a Rutgers backhanded shot that zipped past goalie Alyssa Klebasko and landed in the bottom right corner.
Klebasko was rarely tested in the Terps’ win over Iowa on Thursday — she logged just two saves in a shutout victory. The goalie again faced little opposition in the first half Friday. Her first test was early in the third quarter on Rutgers’s second penalty corner when she saved a shot on goal with her helmet before allowing the game’s first score minutes later.
“Big players make big plays,” Meharg said. “And when the game is on the line, they find the pressure of the score such a privilege.”
Maryland added three penalty corners just minutes apart after Rutgers’ go-ahead score in the third quarter. All of them missed — two went wide right and the other saved easily by Howard — to keep the Terps scoreless entering the final frame.
Margot Lawn ended Maryland’s scoreless drought with a game-tying score late in the match. Minutes later, Bradford grabbed a penalty corner deflection for the Terps game-winning goal that proved crucial for Maryland’s semifinal win.