April 24, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Down four goals to No. 4/4 Northwestern with 13 minutes remaining, the No. 9/10 University of Notre Dame women's lacrosse team cut the deficit to two but could get no closer as the Wildcats held on for the close 10-8 win over the Irish Wednesday night at Arlotta Stadium.
The Irish (11-4, 5-3 BIG EAST) turned in their best showing against the Wildcats since a similar 10-8 setback in the first round of the 2004 NCAA Championship and showed improvement from last year where they lost 17-7 in the regular season and 12-7 in the first round of the NCAA Championship.
"Northwestern is the measuring stick for us," said head coach Christine Halfpenny. "When someone is on top that's what you measure yourself against and we certainly are measuring ourselves with Northwestern. If we are able to go two goals against a team like Northwestern we feel we are making progress. We lost to them twice last season by 10 and five goals, respectively, so we are excited that we are definitely showing improvement."
Coming into the game Notre Dame had struggled recently in the draw circle and looked to be in for a battle against the Wildcats, who are one of the best draw teams in the country. However, the Irish were up to the task, claiming the slight 10-9 edge in the circle, including 7-3 in the first half.
Northwestern's speed helped them corral seven more ground balls (24-17) on the strength of a decided edge in the first half (17-9). Many came after a shot, giving them a second-chance opportunity.
After a last-second free position goal at the end of the half gave Northwestern a 6-4 lead heading into the locker room, the Wildcats used their momentum to power home three consecutive goals to start the second half to extend the lead to 9-4.
The Irish wouldn't go down without a fight, however, as they scored four of the final five goals of the game. Lauren Sullivan scored her third of four goals on the day at 20:45 to cut the margin to four at 9-5. Just two minutes later freshman Kiera McMullan made it 9-6 with a goal from the eight-meter mark.
Northwestern earned an insurance goal after Kat DeRonda scored from the free position at 13:21 left in regulation to move the margin to 10-6.
Just minutes later Notre Dame found the back of the net twice in 13 seconds to give the game its final score. Sophomore Caitlin Gargan knifed through the Wildcat defense to make it 10-7 before L. Sullivan scored her final goal of the day off a nice feed from senior Jaimie Morrison.
Notre Dame had a couple of chances to move even closer on the scoreboard but had trouble getting through the Wildcat defense over the game's final few minutes.
The Wildcats were paced by Fitzgerald's (3G, 1A) four point day, while DeRonda posted three scores. Ali Cassera scooped up six ground balls, while All-American Taylor Thornton had five. Alyssa Leonard, who is fourth in the nation in draw controls with 6.40 per game, had just one for the contest.
Bridget Bianco picked up her 14th win of the season after allowing only eight goals while stopping nine Irish shots.
Notre Dame was led by L. Sullivan's four goals and Gargan's one goal and two assists. Sophomore Barbara Sullivan had her usual impressive stat line with three ground balls, seven draw controls and three caused turnovers to help anchor a defense that held the Wildcats to three goals below their average. Helping Sullivan out on defense was freshman Stephanie Peragallo, who had three ground balls and three caused turnovers, and junior Margaret Smith, who had three ground balls and a team-high four caused turnovers.
"Lauren has been working hard all season to get more comfortable in her role, to find that junior leadership mentality and to find her voice and lead," said Halfpenny. "She did it last weekend and she did it tonight. All year long we have told her that she is a shooter and to give us 100% of your effort and use your incredible mind and skill set in shooting and be who you are and tonight she showed that she is a shooter for us and we are incredibly proud of her."
The Irish close out the regular season at 1 p.m. Saturday as they welcome in first-year program Marquette to Arlotta Stadium on senior day.
Notre Dame leapt out to an early 1-0 lead after L. Sullivan found the back of the net at 27:38 off a pass from Gargan. The Wildcats answered with a pair of goals from Fitzgerald and Leonard before L. Sullivan tied the contest up with a goal at 22:54. Senior Jenny Granger gave the Irish another lead just 11 seconds later after a pass from fellow senior Betsy Mastropieri put her in prime position.
Northwestern answered with a trio of goals to take a 5-3 lead with 7:54 remaining in the half. It appeared the Irish could head into the locker room only down one after junior Kaitlyn Brosco scored with 2:12 left, but the Wildcats were awarded a free position attempt with one second remaining that Fitzgerald capitalized on to send the game to break with the score 6-4.