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UNC falls to Maryland in women’s lacrosse championship

North Carolina's Aly Messinger (27) moves the ball as Maryland's' Nadine Hadnagy (14) defends during the first half of the championship match in the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse tournament, Sunday, May 24, 2015, Chester, Pa.
North Carolina's Aly Messinger (27) moves the ball as Maryland's' Nadine Hadnagy (14) defends during the first half of the championship match in the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse tournament, Sunday, May 24, 2015, Chester, Pa. AP

North Carolina earned its first women’s lacrosse national championship two years ago at Maryland’s expense.

Taylor Cummings and the top-seeded Terrapins wouldn’t allow it to happen again.

Cummings, the defending Tewaaraton Award winner for the most outstanding college lacrosse player and a finalist for this year’s honor, had three goals and two assists as Maryland came back from a three-goal deficit to defeat the second-seeded Tar Heels 9-8 before 8,143 at PPL Park in the NCAA tournament final.

Maggie Bill had three goals and two assists, and Marie McCool added two goals for North Carolina (18-4), which fell short of claiming the second national title in program history.

“It was another epic battle, a battle of defenses in the first half,” North Carolina coach Jenny Levy said. “Then I thought in the second half, they just turned up their intensity.”

Cummings was named the most outstanding player of the tournament for Maryland (21-1), which locked up its second consecutive championship and its 12th since the NCAA tournament was instituted in 1982. Cummings also won that honor last season.

It was a familiar position for North Carolina, which edged Maryland in overtime in its last national championship game appearance in 2013. That game was also played in the Philadelphia suburbs (though at a different location) and provided the Tar Heels an opportunity to avenge two earlier setbacks.

This North Carolina team played Maryland once in the regular season, falling 13-11 on Feb. 22. And it was in line to get the better of the Terps in a rematch on the sport’s biggest stage before Maryland controlled the second half.

However, turnovers helped do in North Carolina. The Tar Heels had five failed clears in the second half and took only four shots after the break.

“They definitely turned up the pressure on our clear, which we had a lot of trouble with,” Bill said. “We didn’t do a good job of responding to that.”

The Terps opened the half with a 5-0 burst, seizing their first lead of the night in the middle of the half. McCool’s free position goal pulled the Tar Heels within 8-7, but Cummings re-established a two-goal cushion with a score down the middle with 11:57 remaining.

Although Maryland dominated possession for much of the rest of the game, the Tar Heels cut the lead in half after forcing a Maryland turnover. Bill spun around a defender and completed her hat trick with 3:02 left, but North Carolina didn’t see the ball again as the Terps burned off the rest of the clock.

“I think you have to give a little credit to Megan Whittle and Taylor Cummings; they’re both great dodgers,” said senior defender Margaret Corzel, who helped hold Maryland to a season-low in goals. “Some of the adjustments we made were just a little too late.”

The Tar Heels scored the first two goals, only for Maryland to respond with a three-goal rally of its own. But North Carolina’s offense found its footing over the final 8:07 of the first half, scoring four consecutive goals to seize a 6-3 lead at the break.

Like in Friday’s 16-7 semifinal rout of Duke, the Tar Heels delivered an end-of-half boost. Sophomore Sydney Holman found just enough room against Cummings, slipping a shot past both her and goalie Alex Fitzpatrick with 3.4 seconds remaining.

Only this time, it didn’t galvanize North Carolina.

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