Women's Final Four set
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Gary Gait was hired five years ago to bring Syracuse women's lacrosse to the pinnacle of Division I.
The Orange are knocking at the door ... again.
Ranked second for much of this season, Syracuse is headed back to its third Final Four in the past five years after a stirring 17-16 victory over North Carolina on Saturday in the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse (18-3) will play top-seeded Florida (19-2) on Friday in the semifinals. The Orange beat the Gators, 12-11, in double overtime early in the season. Maryland (18-3) beat Loyola 17-11 on Saturday and will face Northwestern in the other semifinal.
"We know we're at this level and that we can compete with them," Gait said. "We're happy to take on No. 1. It's going to be a great game. We're thrilled to have that opportunity."
Michelle Tumolo scored with 5 seconds remaining in regulation as Syracuse rallied from a two-goal deficit in the final 3 minutes to beat the fifth-seeded Tar Heels (15-4).
Tumolo scored two of Syracuse's final three goals and assisted on Kailah Kempney's goal that tied the score at 16-all with 39 seconds left. Tumolo's unassisted game-winner was a bounce shot from the right side and capped a three-goal Orange surge in the final minutes.
"I thought this was one of the most exciting women's games that I've seen in three or four years," said Gait, a three-time, first-team All-American for the Syracuse men's team more than two decades ago. "It was just back and forth, up and down, lots of scoring."
Tumolo finished with four goals and one assist, while Katie Webster and Alyssa Murray each had three goals.
Senior Laura Zimmerman, a native of Syracuse, had a career-high six goals and Kara Cannizzaro, who grew up in nearby Cazenovia, tied her career high with five for the Tar Heels.
"It was nice to come home, but it would've been nicer to win," said Zimmerman, whose final goal gave the Tar Heels a 16-14 lead with 3:04 left. "In the second half, we came out a little slow. I thought we gained some momentum through the ground balls and draw controls. We were landing out shots pretty well during our run in the second half."
Syracuse, which squandered a 4-0 lead, outshot North Carolina 23-11 in the second half and finished with a 12-4 edge in ground balls as the Tar Heels had their streak of three straight trips to the Final Four snapped. Goalkeeper Lauren Maksym made 11 saves in a losing effort.
Tumolo led the game-winning rally, when she scored unassisted with 2:24 left, then set up Kempney's tying bounce shot from the left side.
The game was tied 7-7 at the half, but North Carolina went on a 5-2 run to start the second, with three of those tallies by Cannizzaro.
"I thought both teams played with a lot of heart and a lot of hustle," Cannizzaro said. "It seemed like some of the bounces went right into their sticks late in the game. We could have taken care of business a little better early in the game instead of falling behind like we did.
"You can't let it come down to the last two minutes."
Northwestern 12, Duke 7
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Going to an NCAA women's lacrosse final four never loses its luster, even for Northwestern.
Erin Fitzgerald scored four goals and the defending national champion Wildcats rebounded from a slow start to defeat Duke 12-7 on Saturday night to advance to the national semifinals for the eighth straight season.
Second-seeded Northwestern (19-2) pulled away in the second half -- outscoring the Blue Devils 6-3.
"Obviously we're very excited to have the opportunity to make a trip to the Final Four," said Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, whose coaching record in NCAA tournament play improved 30-2 to tie the record for wins in women's lacrosse. "It never gets old. It's a very special thing.
"And I think tonight was a great game. Duke battled hard to the end."
Northwestern's Shannon Smith scored three times, giving her 252 career goals to set a team record for Northwestern, which has won six of the past seven NCAA titles, missing only in 2010.
"It's a huge honor to do it," Smith said, "but I wouldn't have any of those goals if it wasn't for my teammates.
"Right now, I'm just really excited to head back to Long Island for a final four."
Smith leads the Wildcats with 64 goals this season and Fitzgerald is second with 53. The one-two punch came through again against Duke.
"When it comes to these types of game, it's important that your top scorers produce," Amonte Hiller said. "But it's important that your players that are almost role players and have less goals come up big."
Northwestern got that, too, as Amanda Macaluso, Taylor Thornton, Alyssa Leonard, Lacey Vigmostad and Garbiella Flibotte also connected.
Taylor Trimble and Maddy Morrissey both scored twice for Duke (12-7), which also got goals from Makenzie Hommel, Amanda Jones and Kerrin Mauer.
"We're pretty young and even to be one of the last eight standing, I was really proud of our team," Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said "I thought we had a hell of an effort tonight.
"We did a lot of good things. We had a lot of good opportunities. Unfortunately, we didn't finish off some of those."
The Blue Devils led 2-0 5:45 in and 4-2 midway through the first half before Northwestern went on a 5-0 run capped by Smith's record-setting 251st goal 7:04 into the second half.
The Wildcats might have found themselves in a bigger hole early if goalkeeper Brianne LoManto hadn't made several key point-blank stops. She finished with eight for the game.
"I think Brianne had a couple of huge saves tonight," Kimel said "She ended up with eight and we only scored seven goals, so it was a huge difference maker.
"I think some of our kids had great looks, and she just read them real well."
Duke's Mollie Mackler blocked five shots.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.