By Jordan McPherson — OnlyGators.com Contributor
Leave it to a veteran to make a play when it matters the most.
With 32 seconds remaining in the 2014 American Lacrosse Conference Tournament Championship, junior midfielder Nora Barry scored the crucial game-winning goal to lift the Florida Gators to a 9-8 win over the Northwestern Wildcats on Sunday in Evanston, Illinois.
Florida (17-2) fell behind early in the contest but rallied to outscore the hosts 7-1 in the second half.
The game was tied 2-2 early in the first half when Northwestern (12-6) scored five consecutive goals to end the period with a 7-2 advantage.
The Wildcats led the Gators in almost every statistical category after the first 30 minutes, including draw controls (7-3), shots (13-7) and saves (4-2).
Northwestern attacker Alyssa Leonard — the NCAA career leader in draw controls — posted a game-high five in the opening period, forcing Florida to spend the majority of the first half on defense. Leonard finished the contest with eight of NU’s 11 draw controls.
UF’s lone goals before intermission came from freshman M Mollie Stevens at the 23:53 mark and freshman A Sammi Burgess with 13:51 left in the half.
The Gators’ two goals tied their lowest first-half output of the season, while The seven scored by the Wildcats were greater than or equal to the total number or goals the visitors had allowed in nine of their previous 18 contests.
Adjustments had to be made if Florida wanted to win its first ALC Tournament title since 2012 — and head coach Amanda O’Leary ensured her team corrected its mistakes at halftime.
Burgess opened the second half by finding the back of the net just 25 seconds into the period, and sophomore A Lauren Lea brought in another goal two minutes later to cut UF’s deficit to three.
Northwestern A Kara Mupo put the Wildcats’ last point on the board with 25:45 remaining in the contest, extending her team’s lead to 8-4.
The Gators took control from there.
Florida went on a 4-0 run over a span of 12:58 to tie the game. Junior M Shannon Gilroy scored her first goal of the game and NCAA-leading 76th of the season to start the run, with Lea, sophomore Devon Schneider and Stevens adding goals of their own to keep the Gators in contention.
Solid defense ensued for the next nine minutes. The stat sheet was bare.
Barry then broke the silence, scoring the final goal and giving Florida its first lead of the day — the only lead it needed to capture the crown.
With the win, Florida finished the 2014 campaign undefeated in conference play — winning all eight contests by a combined score of 90-66.
The Gators will now wait to find out their seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament with the selection show set to begin Sunday evening at 9 p.m.