UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State women's lacrosse head coach Missy Doherty has known since the beginning of fall that the 2017 Nittany Lions were a special group. Sunday's NCAA quarterfinal matchup only continued to prove the feeling as fourth-seeded Penn State gritted out a gutsy 14-12 win against fifth-seeded Princeton.
"It was a battle, but we've really been battling all season long," Doherty said. "I love games like that. I loved the game today. Obviously you always want to come out of it with a victory, but just to have a battle - that's what they prepare for, that's why they work in the offseason, to face games like this where they're tested all game long."
Through the entire outing, there wasn't a shortage in testing opportunities, as both Penn State and Princeton traded goals to keep each squad on their toes with no more than a two-goal lead.
Freshman Maria Auth sparked early momentum for the Nittany Lions, registering three goals in the opening half of the first frame.
"That was probably the best feeling I've ever experienced," Auth said. "I've never experienced anything like that, but it was a credit to my teammates getting open, helping me out with clearing through, I couldn't have scored those goals without them."
Auth, who had scored 13 goals through 17 games with one start prior to the matchup, wasn't finished though.
With Penn State trailing by one in the second half with less than six minutes to play, it was Auth again, with her fourth goal of the game to tie the score, 12-12.
In a career-high performance, Auth led the team with five points, adding one assist to a team-high four goals.
"She's a great individual attacker and through the course of the season, especially later in the season, she really became a great team attacker - started to know where to move the ball, know how people are working and mixing in that great individual talent," Doherty said. "You could really see that today."
Sophomore Kayla Brisolari responded minutes after Auth's tally with the game-winning go-ahead goal on the free position.
"She looked over to see if we wanted to work the ball but it was a tie game at that point and I was like, if you want to take it, take it, because we need a goal and she did a great job of getting in and putting that shot away," Doherty said.
Penn State closed out its longest scoring stretch with a Katie O'Donnell goal to regain the two-goal advantage, 14-12, with less than two minutes remaining.
The Nittany Lions owned the lead on the draw in the second half, with sophomore Madison Carter finishing with 12 draw controls on the day, in addition to three goals.
"It provides a lot of momentum, you need the ball to be able to do things on offense," Carter said. "The girls on the line were coming and helping out, the girls in the circle were boxing out and we were just able to come up with those possessions which was great and really kept the momentum going."
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Princeton only dialed up the pressure, peppering the Nittany Lions with shot after shot.
It was senior goalkeeper Cat Rainone who proved poised under pressure though, coming up with a pair of critical late saves, denying IWLCA First Team All-American Olivia Hompe on a wide open attempt in the final seconds to lock up the win.
"That last save she had there at the end I was like stop jumping, stop jumping, we've still got eight seconds on the clock," laughed O'Donnell. "She played great today and she had some great momentum saves and really kept us going and kept our energy up and we were able to build off of that and take it into the offensive end."
For Doherty, the last save was simply signature Rainone at her best.
"She's a goalie who just grinds it out, grinds it out, grinds it out, and when we're at practice and it's a competitive thing, that's when she plays her best," Doherty said. "To see their top scorer come in and just take a shot wide open and her to come up with a huge save, I'm just so proud of her."
With the victory, the Nittany Lions are set for their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA national semifinals, slated to meet top-seeded Maryland Friday, May 26 at 5 p.m. in Foxboro, Massachusetts (Gillette Stadium)."We're excited," Doherty said. "Our goal is to do our best every single game and certainly going against Maryland you need to be ready to be on top of things. We have things to grow from, from our last game with them but it's always a great matchup when we play them."