BALTIMORE -- Here we go again for Boston College women's lacrosse. The Eagles are in the national championship game for a third consecutive season but still in search of that elusive happy ending.
The Eagles (22-1) will have to take down the sport's standard bearer if they are to capture their first NCAA women's lacrosse title.
Boston College will face off against Maryland (21-1), a 13-time NCAA champion, Sunday at noon ET on ESPNU at John Hopkins' Homewood Field. It's a rematch of the 2017 national championship game, and these Eagles have reason to believe they can soar after triumphing 15-14 over North Carolina in Friday's exhilarating national semifinals. No surprise that Sam Apuzzo, the reigning national player of the year, got loose for the game winner 1 minute, 12 seconds into the second overtime.
It was Boston College's 35th shot of a thriller that aired on ESPNEWS but is a sure candidate for ESPN Classic. Even Tar Heels coach Jenny Levy touted the effort despite her team falling in the semifinals for the second consecutive season.
"A 15-14 overtime thriller on ESPNEWS; way to go, women's lacrosse!" Levy said. "Ten thousand people in the stands. We're trying to grow this game, and we put on a show tonight."
Announced attendance was actually 8,508, but this place was pumped and packed.
And that was before Maryland, playing less than an hour from its campus, exploded for the most goals in an NCAA women's semifinal. It was yet another milestone for the school's all-time winningest coach, Cathy Reese, in her 13th season. In winning 25-13, the Terps led wire to wire against Northwestern to avenge their only loss of the season.
"It's late, we're tired, but that was a heck of an effort by our team tonight," Reese said at a news conference a few minutes after midnight. "To keep our foot on the gas and play as well as we did against a top team like them is good."
It was Reese's 300th career victory, 269 of them coming at her alma mater.
The nightcap lacked the drama of the first game but had a different kind of tension, starting 25 minutes late due to a shot-clock malfunction. Northwestern (16-5) won the draw count by one, but most of the game was an offensive onslaught that included 10 scores by two unrelated Griffins. Junior Brindi Griffin scored six times. Sophomore Grace Griffin added four goals.
Even defender Julia Braig scored a goal -- the first in her four-year career.
"It was really awesome," said Braig, beaming from that as well as from holding the Wildcats to 1 of 7 free-position shots.
As heralded as the Terrapins are in these parts -- fans in red lined the streets to cheer the team bus as it approached the intimate stadium showcasing the four best teams in the sport -- this night will be remembered for Boston College's relentless play.
The Apuzzo laser that brought Tar Heels goalie Elise Hennessey to her knees was the culmination of a gritty effort that could have played out either way. Hennessey made a brilliant save at the end of regulation, and Carolina senior Gianna Bowe saw a shot hit the post in the first overtime.
But, as usual, Apuzzo was clutch. After the score, the Boston College star twirled around next to the cage, where she was quickly met by fellow All-Americans Kenzie Kent and Dempsey Arsenault.
"Great players make great plays in the moment," Levy said.
"Let's go!" Apuzzo shrieked, racing to the sideline, where her old neighborhood friends from First Street back in West Babylon, New York, held up a cutout of her face, sharing hugs and high-fives over the fence.
A half-hour later, Boston College's most decorated star ever sat almost expressionless in the team news conference, unwilling to get caught up in winning the one before the big one again.
"The girls around were doing their job and making it easy for me and I had a one-v-one. I took my chance and was able to finish, thankfully," was all Apuzzo would say about her 278th career goal, a program mark she holds along with the most draw controls and points.
Forgive Apuzzo for refusing to get too excited despite her team rallying from a six-goal deficit. She's already in the books with every significant individual honor. Being in this spot twice before and coming away empty on the final day has a way of subduing even a moment as big as Friday's, when the Eagles avenged their only loss of the season, to these same Tar Heels (17-4) in the ACC championship game.
"We're trying to stay composed and not let our nerves get to us, making sure we're taking it play by play and not getting overwhelmed by the cameras and all that stuff and focusing on our team and what we need to get done," Apuzzo said. "This year we're really staying steady and being calm."
Two years ago, the Eagles were the hometown favorite in the finale a train ride from their own Chestnut Hill campus. Massive Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, hosted the team's first trip to the championship. The place was so overwhelmingly large that BC fans wore brilliant yellow T-shirts so the Eagles could spot them in the stands, a tradition that continued in Friday's cozier venue. Back then, dual-sport star Kent, an outstanding ice hockey player for the Eagles, amassed 10 points and became the first player in tournament history to win the Most Outstanding Player award for a team that didn't win. Instead it was who else but Maryland that prevailed, 16-13.
Last year Apuzzo was the unflappable one, sneaking her team past the Terrapins in the national semifinals, a victory that ended Boston College's 0-14 streak versus Maryland. But less than 48 hours later, the Eagles were outplayed by James Madison 16-15.
So the giddiness after Friday's winning goal quickly gave way to the "one game at a time" mantra that has defined the Eagles this season.
"One play at a time," is how Boston College's Lauren Daly described the comeback effort that saw the Eagles rally from trailing 5-0, 7-1 and 8-3. A gritty North Carolina defense, with face guards preventing the trio of Apuzzo, Kent and Arsenault from doing their typical damage, stymied the Eagles' offense initially. But that left unheralded Cara Urbank free to go off. And she did, with a team-high four goals.
"We slowly came back and ended up on top," Urbank said.
That's where Maryland stayed throughout its semifinal. Now a final game is all that is left for both teams.
"I want to go out there and have fun. I get 60 more minutes with my best friends," said Maryland senior goalie Megan Taylor, credited with 14 saves. "In my four years, I always wanted to play 22, 23 games, and last year we came up a little bit short. The seniors didn't get to wear the Maryland uniform one last time. Now we do."
"The final four was four great teams and I think that the national championship could have been any one of the four teams," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "Obviously, BC has a lot of fire to want to win this, something they have not achieved, but I think Maryland probably has an equal amount of fire. It will be a great game, a great showcase for our sport."