EVANSTON, Ill. — Second-seeded Northwestern was primed and ready to open the NCAA Championship Saturday afternoon, jumping all over first-time qualifier Boston College with five of the game’s first six goals. The Eagles hung tough the rest of the way but never put together a run on the host Wildcats, who held on to win 11-8 at Lakeside Field.
“It was a little bit dicey in the second half in terms of our turnovers,” said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, now 25-2 in her career in the NCAA Championship. “We would have liked to clean that up and play out the game more simply, but we didn’t do that. We still had some gutsy plays; hopefully we got the jitters out. We have a great opportunity to play either Dartmouth or Albany (next Saturday), and we’re just going to try to build on what we did today and move forward.”
Northwestern received a third-consecutive five-goal effort by junior Shannon Smith, who also added two assists to fuel Northwestern’s offense. Smith triggered two key goals in less than a minute’s time with NU protecting an 8-6 second-half lead, scoring an unassisted goal before setting up freshman Kara Mupo on the next possession. Mupo went full extension over her head to receive the pass and quick-stick home the 20th goal of her rookie season and put NU comfortably in front.
Playing its first NCAA Championship game in program history, Boston College started strong with the lion’s share of possession and several shots on the board before NU recorded one. But Northwestern junior goalie Brianne LoManto turned away three shots in the opening minutes, including two on free position attempts, to keep the Eagles from gaining an early upper hand.
Smith broke the ice for the Wildcats with nearly eight minutes gone by, and Alex Frank made it 2-0 at the 20:50 mark. Sophomore Ali Cassera then deposited her shot only 35 seconds later to put NU ahead, 3-0, and force a BC timeout.
After an Erin Fitzgerald free position shot made it 4-0, the Eagles finally got on the board with a Kristin Igoe goal 20 minutes into the game. Smith supplied the answer for NU, however, in the form of a sneaky wraparound shot on the right side of the crease. The NU junior’s next goal came in similar fashion and this time with just 37 seconds left on the clock in the first half, stemming a 2-0 BC run that had brought the Eagles to within 5-3.
The second half opened with five scoreless minutes, but Smith scored her third-straight goal for the ‘Cats at the 24:20 mark only to have Igoe race down the field and score off the draw 11 seconds later, keeping Northwestern’s lead at three.
With that advantage cut to two, Mupo set up fellow freshman Kelly Rich in front of the net, as Rich spun and fired past BC goalkeeper Sheila Serafino for her 16th goal this season. Mupo would be heard from again soon after, giving the Wildats some much-needed breathing room with her acrobatic score on top of the crease.
Boston College managed two goals over the next 10 minutes but was shut down in the final 8:17 as Northwestern staved off the Eagles’ comeback attempts. The visitors suffered back-to-back blows in the waning minutes as two of their top offensive threats, Igoe and Wilton, were sent off the field with yellow cards.
Wilton, who ranks second nationally in draw controls this season, allowed Boston College to own a 14-7 advantage off the circle on the afternoon. But NU more than compensated for that by forcing 12 turnovers — including a team-best three by Lacey Vigmostad — and winning the ground ball battle, 19-10. In between the pipes, LoManto helped limit BC to a 3-for-10 showing on 8-meter attempts en route to seven saves on the game.
Smith’s seven points on the day increase her career total to 253, seventh-best all-time at NU, while her five goals against the Eagles moved her past former Wildcat great Hannah Nielsen for eighth on the all-time list with 175.