No. 4 Northwestern passes final road test with 10-8 win against No. 9 Notre Dame
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Fourth-ranked Northwestern used a 7-1 run covering both sides of halftime to overcome a feisty Notre Dame squad on Wednesday, downing the ninth-ranked Irish 10-8 at Arlotta Stadium in South Bend. Senior Erin Fitzgerald scored four points (three goals, one assist) and junior attacker Kat DeRonda contributed a career-best three goals to NU's 14th consecutive win against the Fighting Irish.
After the 'Cats built a five-goal advantage with 22:57 to play, the hosts did their best to rally with a 4-1 run in the second half. But sophomore goalkeeper Bridget Bianco -- who recorded seven first-half saves on her way to nine for the evening -- and the Northwestern defense kept the Irish off the scoreboard for the final 11 minutes of the game to secure the win.
Northwestern's willingness to do the dirty work defensively was reflected in a 24-17 advantage in ground balls for the evening, led by senior Ali Cassera's career-high-tying six as well as five from her classmate Taylor Thornton.
Fitzgerald put the Wildcats on the board offensively when she answered Notre Dame's first goal of the game with a score off a free position attempt and, after the NU defense forced a turnover in front of its own goal, Alyssa Leonard fired home a left-handed shot to give NU an early 2-1 lead.
The Irish put away two goals in a span of just 11 seconds to restore a 3-2 advantage at the 22:43 mark, but the Wildcats countered by running an efficient offensive set that ended with Fitzgerald feeding a cutting Kaleigh Craig for Craig's sixth score of the year. NU took a 4-3 lead soon after when Beatrice Conley wrapped the crease to score and Bianco kept Northwestern's lead intact with back-to-back saves on a fast-break opportunity for the Irish.
With eight minutes to go in the first, NU extended its lead when freshman Nancy Dunbar fed DeRonda in space for Northwestern's fifth goal of the evening.
With the Wildcats later protecting a one-goal lead, it appeared NU's final possession of the first half would end without the 'Cats getting a good look on cage, but the Irish defense was whistled with only one second left on the clock. Fitzgerald converted the ensuing 8-meter attempt to send Northwestern into the locker room with momentum and a 6-4 advantage.
Northwestern then came out strong in the second half, controlling possession and taking a 7-4 lead when Leonard wove her way through the defense and set up DeRonda on the doorstep. Barely a minute later, sophomore Jess Carroll used her speed to dodge straight down the middle of the Irish defense and beat Ellie Hilling in goal, notching her second goal of the season and forcing a timeout by Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny with 22:57 remaining.
The timeout paid dividends for Notre Dame, which was able to score once from the run of play and again off the free position arc to pull within three with 18:03 left. DeRonda briefly restored a four-goal NU edge with an 8-meter goal of her own, but Notre Dame notched two goals in a span of just 13 seconds to inch back to within 10-8 on the scoreboard and set up an exciting final 11 minutes.
After the teams traded turnovers, Northwestern worked several minutes off the clock before attempting a shot on an empty cage that went inches wide, returning possession to the Irish with 2:28 to play. Following a timeout, the 'Cats withstood a flurry in front of their own cage that saw Notre Dame ring a shot off the post and have another saved by Bianco before the Irish turned it over on a bad pass to seal the NU win.