May 4, 2014

Florida Earns ALC Title With Second Half Surge

By Josh Walfish | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

In-Game Blog Replay

 

Florida's Shannon Gilroy was honored as the ALC Tournament's Most Valuable Player. (TD Paulius)

EVANSTON, Ill. – The American Lacrosse Conference went out with a bang.

No. 3 Florida completed the largest comeback in program history, overcoming a 7-2 halftime deficit to stun No. 9 Northwestern 9-8 on the Wildcats home field to capture the final ALC Tournament title.

Sammi Burgess, Lauren Lea and Mollie Stevens all scored twice for the Gators (17-2), but Nora Barry sealed the deal for the Gators with a low shot between Bridget Bianco's legs with 32 seconds remaining. It is the second ALC Tournament title for Florida and the sixth win for the Gators over the Wildcats (12-6) in the nine meetings all-time.

"We really wanted to get the time down so when we did score they didn't have a whole lot of time to score," Barry said. "The time was running out and I saw a lane... I took the lane and hoped it would to go in and it did."

Northwestern came out with something to prove in the first half, scoring 78 seconds into the game and then slowly building up the lead in the final 15 minutes to take a five-goal lead into the break. Attacker Alyssa Leonard was the star of the half for the Wildcats, scoring two goals, collecting two assists and controlling five draws in the opening half.

Florida started the game passively and was content waiting inside the 8-meter arc for the Wildcats to attack. That allowed Northwestern to set up its potent offense on the perimeter and the Wildcats cashed in on almost every single mistake from the Gators.

The Gators have been comfortable switching goalies at halftime for most of the year, but Florida coach Amanda O'Leary stuck with Mary-Sean Wilcox in the cage for the second half. O'Leary said it wasn't Wilcox's fault the Florida defense faltered in front of her, and her quick reflexes made her a good choice against a Northwestern attack that shoots from all different angles.

"She was making saves but our defense was not playing very well in front of her or very smart in the first half," O'Leary said. "Every time we made a misstep, they took advantage of it."

The difference for the Gators in the second half proved to be in the draw circle. Although its high pressure defense forced the Wildcats into four turnovers in the second half, Florida beat Northwestern in the circle 5-4 in the second half and allowed them to establish more of an offensive rhythm.

The Gators collected the final four draw controls of the contest and Northwestern was unable to sustain much offensive pressure. Most of that credit can be given to Florida defender Taylor Bresnahan, who was able to tie up Leonard in the circle and force the other Wildcats to collect groundballs.

The inability for the Wildcats to scoop up groundballs off draw controls was an example of the amount of desire shown by the two teams. Wildcats coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said her team did not have the level of intensity necessary to pull it out and Bresnahan said that was one of the messages the players sent in the halftime huddle.

"In the first half we kind of shut down a bit once they got ahead," Bresnahan said. "It was just heart. We just came out with more heart and we just wanted it more."

Both teams will now await their NCAA Tournament fates when the field is announced at 9 p.m. Eastern on Sunday night.

"You have to savor the moment, you enjoy the moment, but [Sunday] at nine o'clock we're going to find out the next phase of our season – the postseason," O'Leary said. "We're happy but we have work to do in preparation for the postseason."


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