McManus: Syracuse sticks with it, tops Florida

Anthony Gruppuso/US Presswire

Syracuse Orange midfielder Sarah Holden celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal.

STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- As tremendous as Sarah Holden's overtime goal for Syracuse was -- resulting in a 14-13 double overtime win against Florida to send the Orange into the 2012 NCAA women's championship game Sunday -- teammate Alyssa Murray's quick-thinking call was just as pivotal.

About two minutes before Holden's goal, during the first overtime period, it looked as though No. 1 Florida would have its first trip to the title game, a meteoric rise in three short years as a Division I program under coach Amanda O'Leary.

And for a few moments at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium on the campus of Stony Brook University, the Gators had it.

Florida's Gabi Wiegand had an open shot on goal after a Syracuse penalty with nine seconds left. She shot and scored, and her team ran to her with suddenly fresh legs to celebrate. But then, Murray acted fast for Syracuse.

"I just ran over to the ref -- a little crazed -- but just calling a stick check," Murray said."It's just anyone who can get to the ref first. They just took her stick and it was illegal."

The pocket was ruled too deep, and the goal was waived off.

"We were obviously elated," O'Leary said."(We) thought the goal was a great goal. It was a great play that we set up, unfortunately, stick checks are a part of the game and (officials) found that it was illegal and so we get back on the defensive end."

In the NCAA tournament, sticks are checked prior to each game, but during the course of a game the strings can loosen, making it harder for the ball to become dislodged. Since that would be an advantage for a player, referees have the right to check sticks again, and players and coaches can request it after a goal.

Anthony Gruppuso/US Presswire

Florida freshman Shannon Gilroy had four first-half goals.

"Teams have done it to us, we've done it to teams," Murray said."If it's the winning goal or potential winning goal, you just want to make sure if there's anything you can do to call it back. We were fighting for our life and I felt like that was just what I had to do."

So back to Holden. Once the nine seconds ticked down, the senior midfielder saw an opening and ran straight for it, shooting low to score about 58 seconds into sudden death.

"It was actually all in, like, slow motion," Holden said

It was the second biggest comeback in the history of the NCAA tournament, after the 2007 semifinal when Virginia beat Duke 14-13 after trailing by nine goals. Friday, Syracuse trailed 12-5 at one point in the second half.

No. 4 Syracuse (19-3) advances to meet No. 2 Northwestern in the 8 p.m. final Sunday. Northwestern beat No. 3 Maryland 9-7 in the later semifinal Friday.

In the first semifinal, Florida freshman Shannon Gilroy scored four goals in the first half, including the last two for her team in the final 2:25 of the period. Florida took a 7-3 lead into the break.

Syracuse managed the clock well in the final three minutes of the game. Led by Murray and Holden, the Orange trailed by just two goals with 2:41 left and took a timeout.

In just 20 seconds, Michelle Tumolo -- with the eye black stretching from under her eyes down to her chin -- took the ball down to the net and tossed it to Murray, who quickly flicked it in with 2:14 to play. There was Syracuse, down 13-12 and having scored seven of the last eight goals.

Two Florida yellow cards later, Holden had a free position shot with 30 seconds left, and she nailed it to tie the game.

Yet again, Syracuse won the draw control courtesy of Kailah Kempney, and one collision in front of the goal later, Tumolo had a free position shot with 15 seconds left. But Florida's Mikey Meagher made the point blank save to keep the score even before the teams went to overtime.

With nine seconds left and the score knotted at 13-13, Wiegand took contact and earned the free position shot. The junior from nearby Bay Shore made it -- before her stick pocket was ruled too deep. The goal was waved off and the Orange got the ball to midfield before time expired.

With 58 secnods elapsed in the sudden-death overtime, Holden scored the winner. O'Leary called for a stick check on the Syracuse winner, but the goal held up.

"It was a smart play by Syracuse to call the stick check," said Florida midfielder Brittany Dashiell."We couldn't do anything about it."

But considering the play of underclassmen like Gilroy, the Gators can take some solace in evidence that their program will continue to excel.

"It's quite a thing to compete in the final four at this stage in our program," O'Leary said.

Syracuse beat top-seeded Florida (19-3) for the second time this season. The Orange won the first 12-11 in double overtime on March 3. Syracuse coach Gary Gait said Florida called for a post-goal stick check during that game.

"The good thing is that our sticks were good and everybody was happy," Gait said,"and obviously a crucial error on their part not to make sure their stick was legal."

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