CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — After being held in check offensively in the first half by a stingy Virginia defense, No. 5 Northwestern used a 4-0 run to close the game and pull out an 8-4 road victory against the 11th-ranked Cavaliers. A trio of Wildcats — Jessica Russo, Erin Fitzgerald and Kat DeRonda — each had two points in the game.
With the score still tied at four and less than six minutes to play, Northwestern got a goal by Fitzgerald before Russo found a wide-open DeRonda on the doorstep as NU took its first two-goal lead of the game.
The late-game run was a welcome sight for Northwestern, which will carry a 15-2 record into next week’s American Lacrosse Conference Tournament in Nashville.
“I think the biggest thing for us was to play together, that was our focus all week and by the end of the game we were doing the little things, cutting through for each other, getting ground balls,” Russo said. “Kelly (Amonte Hiller) had us moving the ball around more than we did early in the game and (Virginia) slid to me and Kat was wide open, I’m glad she put it away.”
Virginia scored off its opening possession 1:21 into the game, but the Wildcats answered by also scoring on its first trip into the offensive zone when Kara Mupo finished a virtually uncontested free position shot for her 18th goal of the year.
Shannon Smith picked up the ensuing draw control and allowed Northwestern to set up a possession that eventually led to Russo creating with a spin to the inside and score a left-handed goal for her 16th of the year. But the Cavaliers almost immediately pulled level at two on a goal by Caroline McTiernan exactly six minutes into the contest.
After back-to-back point blank saves by Virginia goalkeeper Kim Kolarik, a series of turnovers in the midfield left Virginia with the ball, and they took advantage when Charlie Finnegan quick-sticked a pass from behind the net to give Virginia the lead.
On the next Cavalier possession, Northwestern goalkeeper Brianne LoManto got a solid piece of a Virginia shot that richocheted off the post. The Wildcats’ luck turned on the other end, however, as Russo saw her blast clear Kolarik but ring off the right upright, leaving Northwestern down 3-2. The two goals represented the Wildcats’ lowest output in a half this season.
Northwestern forced turnovers on consecutive Virginia possessions — first by Lacey Vigmostad and again by Mupo — only to have good looks on frame denied first by the post and then by Kolarik up high. Defense continued to reign the rest of the half as Virginia protected its 3-2 lead into the intermission despite NU’s 14-5 advantage in shots. It was the third time this year Northwestern trailed at the break, having split the previous two outcomes.
Amanda Macaluso got Northwestern on track with an unassisted goal less than three minutes into the second half, but both squads again put the clamps on defensively as the score remained 3-3 for more than 11 minutes.
Smith appeared ready to break the scoreless streak when she rifled a fast-break shot on goal, but her shot clanged off the crossbar instead. When the Wildcats regained possession, Smith directed the offense from behind the net and worked for an open look that she buried with 16:06 to play, keeping her streak of 39-consecutive games with a goal intact.
After several more long possessions by both teams — and a key save by LoManto on a UVA quick-stick attempt — Virginia’s Finnegan struck with 6:31 to play to tie the score once again. But Fitzgerald responded less than a minute later, shrugging off a hard cross-check to put away her attempt off the restart and give the Wildcats the lead for good.
Northwestern earned some breathing room shortly after thanks to a well-executed offensive set. A wide-open DeRonda was the beneficiary of a Russo feed from behind the net, and DeRonda finished with ease to set the score at 6-4.
With momentum decidedly on Northwestern’s side, Alex Frank scored her 17th goal of the year with 1:06 to go and DeRonda added the final tally as time expired, her sixth of the season.
With the draw control battle nearly split, the Wildcats’ defense came up huge while the offense worked to find its groove. Vigmostad forced three turnovers and Frank forced two more. Northwestern also played with discipline in the back field: Virginia did not have one free-position attempt the entire game.
The game marked the final regular season contest for Virginia seniors Liz Downs, Molly McClintic, Boyd Vicars and Marghi Walters.
Finnigan led the Cavaliers with two goals, while Josie Owen notched one goal and contributed an assist. McTiernan had Virginia’s other score and Julie Gardner dished out two assists. DeRonda scored two goals for Northwestern, while six other Wildcats notched one each.
Northwestern entered the game leading the NCAA in draw controls, averaging 17.25 per game. The Wildcats also rank sixth nationally in scoring offense, averaging 14.88 goals per contest. Virginia led Northwestern, 7-6, in draw controls today, and the Cavaliers’ defense held the Wildcats well below their season average in goals scored.