EVANSTON, Ill. -- After winter weather forced Northwestern to postpone its 2014 debut at Lakeside Field by more than a month, the Wildcats were hardly bothered by waiting one more day.
What was supposed to be a Sunday showdown against defending NCAA champion and undefeated North Carolina turned into a Monday matinee because of travel issues encountered by the visitors, but NU (6-3) retained its focus and executed a flawlessly assembled game plan to upset No. 1 UNC 7-5.
In the process of ending the defending champions' (11-1) 15-game winning streak, Northwestern also secured a victory against the team that knocked NU out of the 2013 NCAA semifinals and snapped the Wildcats' streak of title game appearances at eight.
The event carried significance on a few other historical fronts: on the same day the Wildcats hosted the nation's No. 1 team for the first time in Kelly Amonte Hiller's 13 years at the helm, Northwestern also achieved the 300th all-time victory in program history. Hiller has been on the sideline for 221 of those wins (221-36), while 79 came in the early era of the program (1982-92).
For this particular win, the 'Cats used a patient, ball-control offense to limit scoring opportunities for the high-powered Tar Heels, who arrived in Evanston averaging 18.5 goals and 35.8 shots per game. On Monday, they accumulated less than a third of both totals, tallying five goals and 12 shots.
"We wanted to neutralize their offense because they're very potent offensively," Hiller said. "Obviously Kerri Harrington marked up [UNC's] Aly Messinger and Haydyn Anigian did a great job on Abbey Friend -- and UNC's not a two-man show, it was great team defense, but those were definitely two focal points for us to start with."
Senior Alyssa Leonard scored all four of her points (three goals, one assist) in the first half to lead Northwestern to a 5-2 advantage at the break, while Kaleigh Craig netted one unassisted goal in each period to support the NU attack. Seniors Kelly Rich and Kat DeRonda rounded out Northwestern's list of goal-scorers.
At the other end, returning All-American goalkeeper Bridget Bianco came up with all the clutch stops she needed, saving six of the 11 shots that the Tar Heels put on target to help the Wildcats lead from start to finish.
Northwestern got off to the start it envisioned when on its first possession, Leonard slipped free on the crease when her defender tripped to the ground and scored on a feed by Christy Turner for the game's first goal. Three minutes later, Craig made it 2-0 with a left-handed shot from the middle of the fan for her 18th score of the season.
After Maggie Bill put the Tar Heels on the board, Leonard notched her second goal of the day when a shot by Craig was saved by UNC netminder Caylee Waters and recovered by Leonard for the quick rebound score at the 19:47 mark. Six minutes later, another lengthy Northwestern possession resulted in Leonard completing a hat trick off a pretty feed from fellow senior Kelly Rich.
Two key saves by Bianco, including one on a free position, allowed Northwestern to maintain a two-goal lead as time ticked down in the first half. With 10 seconds left in the frame, Rich attempted to feed Leonard on the crease, drawing Waters out of her cage. Leonard came away from the scrum with the loose ball and slipped it home for her third goal and a momentum swing in NU's favor entering the break.
With the 'Cats later leading 6-3 in the second, Craig took her defender one-on-one and easily won that battle to score her second of the day and provide NU its largest lead of day, 7-3.
Carolina appeared poised to cut its deficit to two with 12:10 remaining when Friend raced uncontested in transition to the front of the Wildcats cage. But Bianco went to her knees to deny Friend's quick shot attempt, returning possession to the 'Cats and allowing them to drain precious time off the clock.
The Tar Heels eventually were forced to come out of their packed-in defense to pressure the Wildcats defensively and were the beneficiaries of several NU turnovers, but were kept out of the cage until a Sloane Serpe eight-meter goal with 47 seconds remaining. It was too late to mount a comeback, however, as the Wildcats held on to improve to 11-4 all-time against North Carolina.
Northwestern's substantial advantage in possession time for the game came despite the two teams battling to an even 7-7 tie on draw controls, with UNC's Sarah Scott notching a game-high six.