By Ryan Berti, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State dropped its final home game of the regular season Thursday night to the Maryland Terrapins, 16-14. The contest was one that saw a back-and-forth battle and ended with the Nittany Lions being the closest squad to knocking off the nation's top team this season.
With the win, Maryland moves to 16-0 and remains the only unbeaten team in the nation. The Terrapins also continue their incredible streak of 53 consecutive regular season wins, one that spans all the way back to April of the 2013-14 season.
Even though the Blue and White came up short in the end, the team still feels as if there were positives to take away from the close fought match.
"It was the number one team in the country. I think every year we turn a corner and I think we're showing we're right up there. It's still a long season ahead with the Big Ten tournament and NCAA's so we'll take our lessons from this game and move on," head coach Missy Doherty said on what her team can take away from the game.
The game also could prove valuable come postseason play, the team says. Only a date with Michigan stands in the way of the Nittany Lions before every team in the conference ships off to College Park, Maryland for the start of the Big Ten tournament. Junior attacker Katie O'Donnell said that games like these that make the team grind from buzzer-to-buzzer helps the team ease into playoff mode where every game is do or die.
"It was a hard fought game, both sides. We fought really hard there at the end, came up short, but I mean once you get to the postseason every single game is like that," O'Donnell said. "It doesn't matter who you're playing, what they're ranked, everyone is playing to keep their season going. So I think it's important we had this game tonight to take it as a learning lesson."
The loss still saw plenty of bright spots for Penn State as several of the upperclassmen stepped up to make big plays. Among the standouts were Madison Carter and O'Donnell, who netted six and five goals, respectively.
When the rest of the offense was struggling to get past the stifling Terrapin defense, Carter or O'Donnell were usually the ones who took charge in the final seconds of the shot clock's life to earn much-needed goals for the Blue and White.
"Our offense was just seeing each other really well. We were cutting through for each other, we were moving hard, we were running out options hard," Carter said about the all-hands-on-deck effort by the offense in running its plays. "All seven people down there on offense are a threat. It was just great to just move the ball, see our options real hard and finish some of our opportunities,"
O'Donnell was the one to open up the scoring on the day with the Penn State's first two goals, and she was the one to close the first half by putting in the team's final goal with six minutes remaining. She and Carter would each score within 23 seconds of one another in order to reclaim the momentum and the 6-5 lead.
The two squads eventually went into the half tied up at six apiece. In the first 30 minutes, both teams had proven their rightful place amongst the nation's best, but it was then the Nittany Lions felt they had the confidence to finish strong.
"Momentum's a huge thing," senior goalkeeper Cat Rainone said about the confidence heading into the half. "Being home's a big deal. Just like last home game, you get that boost of confidence, it's just you've got to get the ball and you've got to score."
Rainone also had herself a solid game after accumulating 15 saves on the day, eight of which were in the first half. She was the anchor in the defensive unit that held the second-highest scoring team in the nation to just six goals in the first half.
When the teams came out for the second half, however, the script completely flipped. The first ten minutes of play in the second half featured eight goals, with Maryland netting five for a 11-9 lead.
From that point on, the two heavyweights would continue to duke it out by trading goals as each put up five more. Unfortunately for the hosts, the mountain proved to be too steep to climb as two goals in the final two minutes still resulted in a two-goal loss.
Penn State looks to finish the season on a high note as they take on Michigan next Sunday in Ann Arbour. The first draw will be at 11 a.m.