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NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Final Four: James Madison stuns UNC, 15-12, advancing to first-ever title game

The Dukes will face the winner of Maryland and Boston College for the NCAA Championship Sunday at noon.

NCAA Lacrosse: Women's Lacrosse Championship-James Madison vs North Carolina Chris Bergmann-USA TODAY Sports

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — In many ways, the James Madison lacrosse team operated like a prison at Friday night’s NCAA Semifinal. At one end, the Dukes defense (and goalie Molly Dougherty) was an impenetrable wall. At the other, a warden — Haley Warden, that is — took charge.

Warden, a senior midfielder from Pennsylvania, scored five goals, her season-high, as No. 3 James Madison defeated No. 2 North Carolina, 15-12, at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium.

For James Madison, the semifinal victory made history; it’s their first time ever the program has made an NCAA title game.

North Carolina, with its constellation of offensive stars — Marie McCool, Jamie Ortega, Katie Hoeg and Ela Hazar — was neutralized throughout the game. James Madison’s zone defense did a great job of limiting high-quality scoring opportunities, and when a stop had to be made, Molly Dougherty made it.

Dougherty, a redshirt freshman, stopped nine of 20 UNC shots. Down the stretch, she was visibly pumped up, giving huge fist-pumps after critical saves. At one point, Dougherty pointed and screamed to a defensive teammate, “That’s what I’m talking about!” after they closed off a gap and forced a shot wide.

The Dukes ended the first half with three-straight goals, the second and third of which Warden scored. This run extended their lead to 8-4 at the intermission. In the second half, the Tar Heels never were able to string together more than two goals at a time, and thus, were unable to close the gap. The James Madison advantage was never fewer than three goals at any point in the second half.

James Madison’s senior captain Kristen Gaudian — a Tewaaraton finalist after behind a walk-on to the Dukes out of high school — scored three goals in the second half after being held off the board in the first 30 minutes.

Freshman attacker Jamie Ortega of North Carolina had a tremendous game in front of a faction of home-crowd Long Island fans. She led all UNC players with four tallies. When she attended school at Middle Country, Ortega set an all-time New York state record with 588 career points.

As for UNC’s other notable Long Island native, goalie Taylor Moreno, she didn’t have a great day. After Gaudian scored her second straight free-position goal with 22:08 to play, North Carolina head coach Jenny Levy elected to make a substitution in net. She inserted sophomore goalie Elise Hennessey for Moreno, who had just six saves on 17 shots against.

The draw circle was expected to play a huge role, but in the end, it wasn’t much of a factor. Warden and McCool went head-to-head every single draw of the game, but James Madison did a good job of making sure McCool didn’t take the game over. The final draw control numbers were just

James Madison will advance to Sunday’s championship game against the winner of the second semifinal, between Maryland and Boston College, to be played at 12 p.m. at LaValle Stadium.