Nov. 22, 2009

Courtesy of Northwestern

EVANSTON, Ill. --  On a crystal clear November day at Lakeside Field, Northwestern junior midfielder Jack Hillgard gave NU a 2-0 lead with a pair of timely headers and the 'Cats went on to defeat Notre Dame, 3-1, in the second round of the NCAA Championship Sunday in Evanston. Classmate Piero Bellizzi scored NU's third goal as the Wildcats eliminated the Irish from postseason play for the second consecutive season.

Ninth-seeded Northwestern will now prepare for a third-round matchup with eighth-seeded Tulsa, which defeated Saint Louis 4-3 in overtime on Sunday. A game time in Tulsa is still yet to be determined.

Northwestern scored on all three of its shots on frame while Notre Dame fired 12 shots on goal and
21 total shots in the game. NU senior goalkeeper Misha Rosenthal was instrumental in preserving the Wildcat lead, recording 10 of his season-high 11 saves in the second half as Notre Dame threw everything it had forward to try to tie the match.

"Our three goals we scored were a byproduct of great opportunities," said NU head coach Tim Lenahan. "I don't really look at it as three shots, three goals, I look at it as the times that we really created great opportunities and we were able to score."

Hillgard, who entered Sunday's contest with two career goals, gave the hosts the lead in the 18th minute on NU's first corner kick opportunity. After the initial service was headed by an Irish defender back across the goal mouth, Hillgard used his 6-foot-3 frame to outjump his marker and put a header on goal. Notre Dame goalie Andrew Quinn made a diving save attempt, but the referees ruled that the ball had completely crossed the goalline and credited Hillgard with the goal.

That was one of only two corner kicks for either team in what proved to be an otherwise quiet first half.

The offenses opened things up considerably in the second, however, with Hillgard notching his second tally eight minutes into the half. Eamon O'Neill took a pass from Matt Eliason and carried the ball down the left wing when he saw Hillgard cutting in front of the goal. O'Neill sent a perfectly placed cross in Hillgard's direction, which Hillgard promptly redirected past a leaping Quinn.

Notre Dame's attack found its stride in the minutes that followed, recording seven of the game's next eight shot attempts. Rosenthal made his first stellar save of the afternoon in 58th minute when Brendan King ripped a low liner through the penalty box that forced a diving stop by the NU goalkeeper.

The 'Cats, well-accustomed to playing in tight games this season, received an insurance goal from Bellizzi in the 67th minute. O'Neill played a bouncing ball across the pitch to Bellizzi, who managed to touch the ball past a drawn out Quinn before firing his shot into the open net for his fourth goal of the year.

"Usually it's one goal for us and these (NCAA) games are usually decided by one goal," Rosenthal said."It was really nice to get a couple-goal lead, it makes a big difference when you're fighting off the last couple of minutes."

Over the last 20 minutes, UND continued to pepper Rosenthal with shots. Jeb Brovsky tried to catch Rosenthal sleeping on the line with a quick free kick that he sent toward the upper right corner of the goal, but Rosenthal was able to recover and make the save. The Irish managed to get on the board in the 83rd minute when John Schaefer knocked home a feed by Bright Dike from six yards out, but it was too late for Notre Dame to complete a comeback.

Notre Dame finished with a 10-2 advantage in corner kicks on the afternoon.

"We didn't get many breaks today but our performance was a very, very strong performance," said Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark. "It was a very good day for Northwestern. Their goalkeeper was superb and had a terrific game; he had a phenomenal second half. It's been a great season and I was proud of our team."