Over the course of the last three seasons, the Newton Campus Lacrosse Field has featured several special Sam Apuzzo moments. From a falling away goal to beat the buzzer and complete an undefeated regular season against Syracuse in 2018 to a behind-the-back goal that made the SportsCenter Top 10 earlier this season, the senior has no shortage of signature plays at home.
It was only fitting, then, that in the final home game of her career, the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner came up with one last clip for the highlight reel. With just over five minutes left in the first half of Boston College lacrosse’s NCAA Elite Eight matchup against No. 7 Princeton, the Eagles trailed, 6-4, and hadn’t scored in over 16 minutes. Apuzzo changed that, however, curling off a screen, receiving a pass from Kenzie Kent, and burying a close-range effort to cut the BC deficit to one.
She wasn’t finished there, though. The senior won the ensuing draw control and used some fancy footwork to tally again and knot the game, before nabbing another draw and scoring off another Kent assist. In just two minutes and 15 seconds, Apuzzo had notched a hat trick, turning a two-goal deficit into a 7-6 lead, completely swinging the momentum in the process. The Eagles never trailed from there, pulling away in the second half for a 17-12 victory to advance to the Final Four in Baltimore.
In a sign of what was to come in the circle, No. 1 BC (21-1, 7-0 Atlantic Coast) won the opening draw and raced down the field, immediately getting set up on offense. The Eagles worked the ball around before Cara Urbank cut toward the crease and ripped a shot past Tigers (16-4, 6-1 Ivy League) goaltender Sam Fish to open the scoring. All told, when the final whistle blew, BC had a 21-10 draw control advantage. The performance marked the second straight game where the Eagles had an impressive edge in the circle, after BC was out-drawn, 18-12, in the ACC Championship loss to North Carolina.
“It was great,” Eagles head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein said. “The three or four girls who were rotating on the draw circle are some of the most intuitive athletes. When you pair that with a lot of work ethic, a lot of reps, you’re gonna have improvement.”
Apuzzo won another draw, and Urbank snuck a pass to Taylor Walker, who scored again for BC. After just two minutes, the Eagles led, 2-0, and looked to be cruising.
But things began to change on the very next draw control. Princeton’s Elizabeth George nabbed the 50-50 ball and sprinted to goal, swinging a pass to Julia Haney deep in the BC offensive zone. The Tigers senior wasted no time, finding the net just 12 seconds after the restart to get Princeton on the board. Sheila Rietano dropped the ball on the ensuing draw control, and Allie Rogers ripped twine to knot the game at 2-2.
The teams combined for four goals—two a side—in the span of two minutes to leave the game tied at four with 20 minutes left in the first half, but, after that, all of a sudden neither team was able to find the net. In the next 12 minutes, the teams scored just one total goal, when Princeton’s Kathryn Hallett bounced a shot past Abbey Ngai, who finished with seven saves.
Hallett tacked on another goal with 7:52 to play in the period just after Urbank was given a yellow card, providing the Tigers with a 6-4 advantage. The Eagles hadn’t scored in nearly 14 minutes, and looked flustered by a strong effort from Princeton’s man defense and Tigers netminder Sam Fish, who made five saves during BC’s drought.
“I think we were playing at the wrong tempo,” Walker-Weinstein remarked of the slow offensive start. “We were playing too fast, too rushed.”
That all changed with Apuzzo’s hat trick and some excellent goaltending from Ngai. The sophomore denied Tess D’Orsi twice in the waning seconds of the period, helping the Eagles maintain a one-goal advantage at halftime.
BC’s slim edge expanded quickly after the break. D’Orsi finally snuck a shot past Ngai to knot the game, but over the next 10 minutes it was all Eagles. Jordan Lappin used a pair of stick fakes to open some space and slide a shot inside the near post. Dempsey Arsenault added a goal, and Apuzzo assisted Kent, before Arsenault and Kate Taylor tacked on two more scores to turn a 7-7 tie into a 12-7 BC lead.
The teams traded scores from there, as Apuzzo capped off a four-goal performance off yet another assist from Kent—who tied her single-game program record with six assists—to put the Eagles up, 14-9. Taylor, Urbank, and Jenn Medjid also got in on the act with the clock winding down, putting the finishing touches on a spectacular second-half performance from BC. After the teams both finished with 18 shots in the first half, the Eagles out-shot the Tigers, 18-11, in the latter period.
The quarterfinal win means, remarkably, that BC has now advanced to the Final Four in three straight campaigns.
“It’s a dream come true,” Walker-Weinstein said. “These girls work so hard, they sacrifice so much, they do so much for each other and for the program.”
Now, the only thing left to see is if all that sacrifice pays off in the biggest way possible: a national championship. If the Eagles keep playing like they did in the second half Saturday, they’re certainly capable of overcoming that final hurdle, which starts with a rematch against No. 2 UNC—the only team to defeat BC this season.
Featured Image by Andy Backstrom / Managing Editor