Fitzgerald's four-goal performance lifts Northwestern to big win vs. Penn State
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Facing a Penn State team fresh off an upset of the nation's second-ranked team, No. 4 Northwestern handled its latest American Lacrosse Conference test with relative ease en route to an 11-3 victory on Friday.
The Wildcats improved to 4-0 in ALC play with one conference game remaining.
Northwestern received a four-goal performance from senior Erin Fitzgerald, while Alyssa Leonard and Taylor Thornton each netted a pair of goals.
Defensively, the Wildcats continuously frustrated the Nittany Lions attack that entered the game averaging 14 goals per game. PSU took only 10 shots, 19 fewer than its season per-game average.
Senior Gabriella Flibotte disrupted PSU with a trio of caused turnovers -- moving into ninth on NU's career list with 69 -- while junior Kate Macdonald made her second career appearance in the starting lineup and recorded a career-best four ground balls to go along with one caused turnover and her first goal of the season.
The win was the 15th in a row for Northwestern against Penn State.
"I think we put some pressure on them and took them out of their offense, shook them up a little bit and made them play faster than they wanted," head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "Our offense was able to give our defense a bit of a rest at times and then take advantage of our own opportunities."
Northwestern needed only 60 seconds to get on the scoreboard Friday night, with Fitzgerald striking first on a dodge from outside the fan. Penn State had the answer less than two minutes later on a quickstick goal by Molly Fernandez, the last goal the Nittany Lions tallied before going on a scoring drought of 26 minutes.
NU took a 2-1 lead when senior Beatrice Conley orchestrated the Wildcats attack from behind the cage and eventually found a cutting Leonard for Leonard's 20th goal of the year, and two minutes later -- after goalkeeper Bridget Bianco caused a turnover for the 'Cats -- Fitzgerald made it 3-1 with her first of three eight-meter goals on the evening.
After an unassisted Thornton tally set the count at 4-1, Northwestern continued to stymie Penn State defensively through the remainder of the first half while on offense, Amanda Macaluso set up freshman Nancy Dunbar's third goal of the year with 9:33 left before half. Late in the period, Penn State was robbed by Bianco on a golden scoring opportunity off an eight-meter restart, and freshman Kaleigh Craig made it a two-goal swing in NU's favor when she finished a left-handed shot at the 2:12 mark to make it 6-1 Wildcats.
Leonard, who won five draw controls on the evening to pull within eight of Kristen Kjellman's career school record of 268, opened the scoring in the second half with a dodge to her left hand and sidearm finish less than five minutes out of the intermission. Fitzgerald then sandwiched a pair of eight-meter goals around a Penn State goal by Tatum Coffey, and the 'Cats found themselves in command with a 9-3 lead and 10:29 to play.
The Nittany Lions did themselves no favors in their attempt to make up ground, drawing three second-half yellow cards. NU was able to manage PSU's defensive pressure and received late goals from Thornton and Macdonald to account for the final score.