Gators advance to ALC Tournament finals


Florida midfielder Nora Barry runs past Ohio State defender Heather Gravinese during the semifinal game of the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament on Friday, May 4, 2012 in Gainesville, Fla. Florida defeated Ohio State 5-4 and will play Northwestern in the championship game on Saturday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012 at 10:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 4, 2012 at 10:29 p.m.

It was the lowest scoring game in the three-year history of Florida women's lacrosse.

Facts

Today's game

What: ALC Tournament final
Who: Florida vs. Northwestern
When: 12:30 p.m.
Where: Donald R. Dizney Stadium
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850

But sparked by a pair of freshmen, host Florida advanced in the semifinals of the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament with a 5-4 win over Ohio State before 1,013 at Dizney Stadium.

The Gators (16-2, 5-0 ALC) move on to face No. 1 Northwestern (17-1, 5-1 ALC) in the tournament finals at 12:30 Saturday afternoon. Northwestern advanced with a 13-9 win over Johns Hopkins.

“We're going to have to play a solid 60 minutes against them,” Florida coach Amanda O'Leary said. “They are number one in the country for a reason so we're going to have to come out, play hard, play well. We need to clean up some of our offensive mistakes. I think defensively, we have some key things to focus on.”

Florida upset Northwestern 8-7 on April 21, handing the No. 1 Wildcats their lone loss of the season.

“I think they are going to come out to get us, since we did just beat them a few weeks ago,” Florida junior attacker Kitty Cullen said. “We've completely looked past that game and we're refocused for them. … We're just going to focus on ourselves and get back to the basics.”

Against Ohio State, the Gators got off to a sluggish start. Florida led just 2-1 at halftime. Ohio State came into the game with a strategy to control the ball and limit Florida's possessions. It made sense against a Florida team that came into the semifinal matchup averaging 16.71 goals per game.

“We wanted to limit Florida's opportunities,” Ohio State coach Alexis Venechanos said. ‘We knew they had a couple of week break, and they were going to be a little antsy getting back on that field. So we thought limiting their possessions would give us the best opportunity to win.”

Freshman Nora Barry scored both first-half goals for the Gators. In the second half, Ohio State tied the score on two goals in the span of 17 seconds from Alayna Markwordt. The senior attacker cut Florida's lead to 3-2 with 16:46 remaining, then added an unassisted goal with 16:29 left to tie the score at 3.

That's when the Gators turned to freshman midfielder Nicole Graziano, who provided a big lift off the bench. Graziano's unassisted goal with 12:21 left put Florida ahead 4-3. Then, off a feed from Brittany Dashiell, Graziano put the Gators up 5-3 with 10:30 left.

“Our whole coaching staff does a great job, not just the starters being ready for the game, but anyone off the bench,” Graziano said. “Anyone off the bench is ready to go in at any time.”

Said O'Leary: “I think it says a lot about our team in the fact that when it wasn't falling, we were able to count on two freshmen to come in and carry the load … Upperclassmen, freshmen, transfers, everybody is a vital part this program. We're lucky enough to have the ability to count on a lot of different people.”

From that point, Florida held the lead. Ohio State's Gabby Capuzzi scored an unassisted goal with 7.9 seconds left. But Florida midfielder Shannon Gilroy controlled the draw, allowing the Gators to run out the clock and clinch the win.

The five goals for Florida tied the lowest scored in a game in team history. In 2010, the Gators scored just five goals twice, falling 10-5 to Cornell and 19-5 to Northwestern.

Florida finished with 24 shots, but were thwarted by Ohio State goalkeeper Tori DeScenza, who had 15 saves.

“We generated a lot of shots, I mean, 24 shots, that's a good number of shots for us,” O'Leary said. “They just weren't falling. So we certainly had, I thought, prepared a really good gameplan offensively and defensively. Sometimes it falls, sometimes it doesn't.”

Northwestern 13, Johns Hopkins 9: Shannon Smith had four goals, lifting Northwestern to the win.

Erin Fitzgerald and Taylor Thornton added two goals apiece for the Wildcats.

“We really focused on everyone, when they touched the ball to be a threat,” Smith said. “I think we did a good job from that from the attack to the middies.”

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