PHILADELPHIA - With the Philadelphia skyline looming in the distance, a back-and-forth battle between two of the best teams in the nation ended with a defensive stand in the final seconds of play.
The second-seeded Dartmouth women's lacrosse team held off third-seeded Cornell, 9-8, in the first semifinal of the 2012 Ivy League Tournament Friday afternoon at Dunning-Cohen Champions Field at Penn Park.
Leading by a goal with under 30 seconds left in the second half, the Big Green (11-4) needed a last-ditch defensive stand to prevent the Big Red (11-5) from getting off a shot in hopes of tying the game and forcing overtime.
Dartmouth will now play Penn in the championship game Sunday at noon as the Quakers defeated Harvard, 9-5, in the second semifinal of the day.
"We played with a lot of guts and a lot of poise, especially towards the end of that game," head coach Amy Patton said. "In the end, it was our defensive stops that kept us in it. Our defense came up big time after time and Kristen (Giovanniello) had some big saves at critical times."
The game began in the late afternoon with temperatures in the low 80s.
Like the afternoon, Dartmouth started hot, going on a 4-0 run in the first seven and a half minutes. The Big Green's defense may have been the story of the game by the end, but the beginning was defined by the team's offense pushing the lead to 6-1 midway through the opening period.
The 2012 Ivy League Player of the Year, senior Sarah Plumb (Wellesley, Mass.), scored twice in that opening run of six goals.
Plumb, already the owner of the Ivy League and Dartmouth records for draw controls in a career (151) and a single season (77) set a new league tournament record with six in Friday's semifinal victory. It was a total-team effort on the draw, though, as the Big Green's 15 on the afternoon tied a tournament record (15-4).
Cornell answered throughout with runs of its own, scoring four straight goals in a stretch that spanned 19:07 from the first half and into the second.
Three Dartmouth goals followed in a period of three and a half minutes to make it a 9-5 game and proved to be crucial as it would not find the back of the net again in the final 21:43 of the game.
"The midfielders on both teams were exhausted from the heat, but I thought we really dug in and found a way to push through that," Patton remarked. "Not to say it was a flawless game in the least, but we've been in these situations all year and I think those instances of perseverance really helped us today."
Cornell netted the final three tallies of the contest, including two from Courtney Salisbury in the last seven minutes to pull her team to within one, 9-8.
But that's when the Dartmouth defense, which had stood tall all day long, got even better. The Big Green's collection of defenders made it seemingly impossible for the Big Red attackers to get inside the arc. When they did, they were met by All-Ivy Second Team goalkeeper Kristen Giovanniello (Old Brookville, N.Y.).
The sophomore and two-time all-league keeper finished with eight saves on the afternoon. However, she was not called on in the waning seconds as the defenders in front of her held Cornell to the outside and did not allow a shot on goal, sending the Dartmouth bench onto the field in celebration as the clock hit zeros.
Sophomore Lindsey Allard (Baltimore, Md.) had three ground balls and a caused turnover in the game, while All-Ivy defenders Hilary Smith (Bronxville, N.Y.) and Georgia Bird (Summit, N.J.) were part of the strong Dartmouth defense.
Sunday's championship game will be the second appearance in the league title game in three seasons for the Big Green as they also advanced in 2010 after knocking off Cornell, 10-8, at Penn's Franklin Field.
Friday's win marked the second time this season that the Big Green defeated the Big Red, doing so as well in the regular season meeting between the two in Ithaca, 12-10, on April 7.
Dartmouth and Penn will battle for the Ivy League title Sunday at noon with the NCAA Tournament automatic berth on the line.