April 28, 2012

Northwestern Erupts in Second Half, Beats Virginia

from press release

EVANSTON, Ill. -- A dominant second-half performance in which No. 1 Northwestern outscored No. 9 Virginia by an 11-2 margin lifted the Wildcats to a 13-6 victory in its regular-season finale at Lakeside Field Saturday afternoon. Northwestern (16-1) opens postseason play Friday in the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament against the winner of a first-round matchup between Penn State and Johns Hopkins.

After a pregame ceremony honoring its six graduating seniors playing their final regular season home contest, Northwestern got off to a slow start in the first half, finding the back of the net just twice while Virginia goalkeeper Kim Kolarik notched five early saves. But everything changed after halftime, with three NU goals in the first four minutes out of the break giving the Wildcats their first lead of the day.

Northwestern received critical contributions from up and down the lineup, including a four-goal, five-point effort by Shannon Smith and two highlight-reel goals by junior Taylor Thornton. Junior Gabriella Flibotte pitched in with four hard-fought draw controls and scored on a long-distance blast during NU's run early in the second stanza.

The visiting Cavaliers took advantage of their goalkeeper's strong play to start the game, getting on the board with two free-position goals in the first 12:26 and making it 3-0 off a Katie Slater dodge-and-score with 14:58 remaining in the half.

Northwestern's first goal came via an 8-meter shot by junior Ali Cassera nearly 20 minutes into the contest, its longest drought to open a game this season. Turnovers by both teams hampered their offensive efforts in the first half, but Virginia managed to regain a three-goal lead (4-1) on a tally by Ainsley Baker with 4:10 before half.

Thornton cut NU's deficit to two when she took a feed from Casey Bocklet and fought her way through several defenders in the fan before slotting it past Kolarik for her 22nd goal of the season. But Northwestern -- which trailed Virginia, 3-2, at halftime of last season's matchup before winning 8-4 -- had to settle for a 4-2 deficit at the break.

After Smith got on the scoresheet for the first time just 80 seconds into the second half, Flibotte sparked NU when she crossed the restraining line and continued toward goal until she fired home a shot from beyond the edge of the fan. Just over a minute later, Kara Mupo converted an 8-meter attempt to give the 'Cats their first lead, 5-4.

Junior Erin Fitzgerald extended the lead to 6-4, but the Cavaliers responded with two goals in less than a minute to tie things up at six with 19:05 to play. Thornton had the answer for the Wildcats, deftly wrapping around the crease, spinning off a defender and faking out Kolarik on her way in for the goal, giving the Wildcats the lead for good.

It was Smith's turn after that as the senior twice beat her defender off the crease and beat Kolarik top shelf, putting the Wildcats comfortably ahead, 9-6, with 10:41 to play. Nearly three minutes later, senior goalkeeper Brianne LoManto made a stellar save on what proved to be Virginia's last shot attempt of the game at the 7:55 mark of the second half.

Another senior playing her final home regular-season game, Lacey Vigmostad got in on the scoring when she eluded her defender and put one past Kolarik with 5:06 to play. After Kat DeRonda and Smith each scored unassisted goals to extend NU's lead to 12-6, senior and All-American midfielder Alex Frank corralled a draw control and took it the distance, firing on the run past Kolarik for her first goal of the season and the 56th of her stellar NU career.

Frank also led the Wildcats with three caused turnovers and added two ground balls on the afternoon, typifying the defensive pressure applied by NU that caused 14 of Virginia's 18 turnovers for the game. Northwestern won the battle on the draw circle, 13-8.

Maria Tedeschi, the sixth NU senior honored before the game, added one caused turnover on the defensive end.

Northwestern's postseason journey begins at 3:30 p.m. CT Friday in the ALC Tournament semifinals. For a complete schedule and links to live video and stats from Gainesville, visit the tournament website at GatorZone.com.


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