Sophomore midfielder Keri McCarthy (No. 24, above) carries the ball down the field in a game against Albany on May 7. McCarthy’s nine draw controls helped Stony Brook defeat Northwestern on Sunday and secure a place in the NCAA quarterfinals. ANNA CORREA/THE STATESMAN

Stony Brook Women’s Lacrosse, after four straight years of second round exits, beat Northwestern 13-9 on Sunday and secured a spot in the quarterfinals for the first time in program history.

“America East was our first goal, this was our second goal, and we have a third, most important goal,” junior attacker Kylie Ohlmiller said. “And that’s to win a national championship.”

At the half, however, the score was 6-6 — only the third time this season that Stony Brook has not lead at the half. The normally confident Seawolves admitted they had some doubts after they struggled to poke holes in the Wildcats’ zone defense.

“I know I did,” head coach Joe Spallina said after the game. “There was a lot of talk about our bracket, but if we lost today then we prove a lot of people right. And we’re not into that. We like to go the other way. We like to prove people wrong.”

As the regular season came to a close, the America East conference champion Seawolves were expected to be seeded as one of the top-six seeds in the NCAA tournament. They entered the tournament with a win Friday against Bryant, as the eighth seed.

The game started like many other home games this season. In front of a crowd of 984, sophomore midfielder Keri McCarthy won the opening draw and freshman attacker Taryn Ohlmiller took off down the field scoring a mere eight seconds into the game.

Midway through the half, however, Stony Brook was down 5-3 to Northwestern. It was an unfamiliar position for the team who entered Sunday with a 19-1 record.

“At 5-3 you start to say to yourself ‘oh boy, here we go again’ or ‘what are we going to do?’” Spallina said. “The NCAAs are a different animal.”

Defense and draw controls were critical to the turn around. Redshirt junior defender Brooke Gubitosi tied a career-high (for the third time this season) with six forced turnovers, and McCarthy had nine draw controls against Northwestern’s junior attacker Shelby Fredericks. Fredericks had 165 draw controls this season but was held to only five on Sunday.

“She’s one of the main reasons we’re sitting at this table,” Spallina said of McCarthy at the post-game press conference. “The girl on the other side is the best draw specialist in the country and Keri owned her.”

McCarthy is the first Stony Brook player to eclipse 100 in a single-season, reaching 106 on Sunday. Gubitosi’s 53 caused turnovers is also a single-season program record.

Gubitosi and the defense limited Northwestern to three goals in the second half. 

“Whenever the defense can turnover, it’s a huge momentum starter,” Gubitosi said. “Early on in the game, I feel like we took a punch and gave two back.”

After being down 5-3, in large part thanks to Wildcat senior attacker Danita Stroup’s first-half hat-trick, Stony Brook tied it up going into the half. All six first half goals came from six different players.

Northwestern opened second half scoring with a goal from junior attacker Nicole Beardsley four minutes in, but Stony Brook followed up with three consecutive goals over the next three minutes. The 9-7 lead would never be relinquished.

Taryn Ohlmiller had three goals and an assist, while her older sister Kylie had two goals and four assists – leaving her at 82 on the season and two short of breaking the all-time single season assist record, set by Northwestern’s Hannah Nielsen in 2009. Nielsen was on the sideline at Sunday’s game as a first-year assistant coach for the Wildcats.

Junior midfielder Samantha DiSalvo and freshman midfielder Ally Kennedy added two goals each. Four other Seawolves found the back of the net once.

“People have doubted us, but put anyone in front of us, I know we can do it,” McCarthy said. “We’ve worked so hard these last four months that we’re ready to take anyone.”

Next week, Stony Brook will get their chance to prove their doubters wrong. At noon, while the Seawolves and Wildcats faced off at LaValle, No. 1 Maryland and High Point faced off 270 miles down I95 in College Park, Maryland. The undefeated Terps won 21-6.

Stony Brook will travel to College Park and play in the quarterfinals at noon on Saturday, May 20.

“They have to adjust to us,” senior midfielder Kristin Yevoli said. She continued her stretch of solid postseason performances with two points, two groundballs and two caused turnovers. “We’re going to come out guns-a-blazin.’”

Spallina echoed his player’s sentiment.

“We’re going there to win the game. We’re not going there for respect. I don’t care what they think of us. We’re going in there with me and my girls and we’re going to do battle,” Spallina said. “We’re gonna roll up our sleeves. We’re going to go after the number one seed in the country.”

“Can we do it right now?” Kylie Ohlmiller asked.

Spallina nodded.

“Let’s go.”