No. 2 Wildcats rally past No. 3 Duke
Smith's three goals, two assists lead Wildcats to victory
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Trailing by three goals in the second half and facing a hot goaltender, No. 2 Northwestern was in need of a spark to protect its home field and its undefeated record against third-ranked Duke Saturday in Evanston. Rather than relying on any one individual performance, NU collectively rose to the occasion at both ends of the field, ending the game on a 7-2 run to defeat the Blue Devils, 12-10.
Junior goalkeeper Brianne LoManto turned away eight shots in the second half and finished with a season-high 11 on the game, while Shannon Smith, Erin Fitzgerald and Jessica Russo all notched two goals after intermission to fuel the Wildcats comeback.
Northwestern controlled play in the early going but struggled to get on the scoreboard as Duke goalkeeper Mollie Mackler recorded saves on the first six Wildcat shots of the game. Mackler was particularly tough on Northwestern's free position shot attempts, holding NU to a 1-for-9 conversion rate through the game's opening 30 minutes.
"We maybe got a little tight when were missing those shots, but in the second half when we're down a few goals we started to run and get out on the break because we didn't really have any other options, and I thought that helped get the momentum back on our side," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, who improved to 55-10 against top-10 ranked opponents at Lakeside Field in her NU career.
After nearly 10 scoreless minutes to open the game, Duke struck first with two goals less than 40 seconds apart from Emma Hamm and Kat Thomas, only to see the Wildcats respond as Brooke Matthews, Ali Cassera and Smith found the back of the net to give NU the lead.
Duke evened the score with 10 minutes to play in the half, setting in motion a span of over 20 consecutive minutes on the scoreboard where the Blue Devils were tied or had the upper hand. Following a goal by Kara Mupo, Alex Frank pulled the Wildcats within one when she capitalized on a rare mistake by Mackler, who failed in her attempt for a steal behind the cage and left the net wide open for the NU junior to finish a feed from Smith.
Consecutive goals on either side of halftime set the score at 8-5 in the Blue Devils' favor, but that's when NU found its form. After goals from Fitzgerald and Smith, NU nearly pulled level after a point-blank save by LoManto and a sweet underhand shot by Smith that caught the crossbar.
NU kept battling, however, and found their reward when an illegal stick ruling against Duke turned possession over to the Wildcats with 15 minutes to play. Jessica Russo immediately took advantage of the turnover, sprinting into the zone to convert an unassisted goal and get NU back to within 9-8.
A Mupo free position goal and another Russo tally off a feed from Fitzgerald gave NU its first lead of the second half and, after Hamm tied the score one final time at 10, the Wildcats seized the lead for good with goals by Smith and Fitzgerald.
The Wildcats finished with a 37-27 edge in shots despite losing the draw control battle for only the second time this year. Smith finished with a game-high five points and also caused three Blue Devil turnovers.