NU gets revenge on N.Car, try for 6th straight Women’s Lacrosse National Title Sunday

TOWSON—Behind a second half offensive surge and a trio of hat tricks by the Northwestern offense, the Wildcats pulled away from North Carolina 15-10 in the NCAA semifinal at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, Md. Second-ranked Northwestern now sets its sights on Sunday’s national championship game, where it will meet top-ranked Maryland at 4:30 p.m. CT Sunday, May 30. Seniors Danielle Spencer (Rochester, N.Y./Brighton) and Katrina Dowd (Yorktown Heights, N.Y./Yorktown) each recorded three goals on the night, complemented by a hat trick from freshman Erin Fitzgerald (Mt. Sinai, N.Y./Mt. Sinai), who continues her high level of play in the postseason. Sophomore Shannon Smith (West Bablyon, N.Y./West Babylon) led the ‘Cats with four points on the night (2G, 2A) while junior Brooke Matthews (Baltimore, Md./Friends School) and sophomore Alexandra Frank (Westwood, Mass./Westwood) each added a pair of goals for NU. Spencer also made her presence felt in the draw circle, winning a game-best eight on the night as the Wildcats held a 17-9 advantage for the night. She upped her season total to 105 and became just the fourth player in NCAA history to eclipse the 100-draw mark in a single season. Dowd continued to live up to her nickname of “Miss May,” as with her three goals on the night she extended her tournament goal total to an NCAA-record 45. Dowd also became just the fourth player in Division I history to tally 50 career postseason points, sitting at 52 in a Wildcat uniform and within striking distance of former teammates Hannah Nielsen (56 points) and Hilary Bowen (55). She now sits at 77 goals on the year, marking a new personal-best and moving into second-place all-time in program history in single-season goals, trailing only Bowen’s 81 in 2008. The victory over the Tar Heels avenges the Wildcats’ only loss of the 2010 season, an 18-16 defeat in Evanston on April 18, as they improve to 7-2 all-time against North Carolina. Northwestern extended its NCAA-record postseason winning streak to 23 games while notching it’s 20th win of the season — the sixth-straight season Northwestern has reached the 20-win plateau. North Carolina struck first as Laura Zimmerman gave the Heels a 1-0 lead with just 95 seconds burned off the clock. Matthews then energized her hometown fans, firing a shot into the back of the net to even the game at one at the 24:38 mark. The two teams would then lock down in a defensive struggle, going nearly 13 minutes without a goal until Spencer rocketed a free position goal past Ripley to give the ‘Cats their first lead of the game at 2-1. It was short lived, however, as UNC answered just 43 seconds later to knot the contest at two. Fitzgerald gave the lead back to Northwestern, converted on a free position attempt to give the Wildcats a 3-2 lead with 2:25 to go in the opening half.But as the waning seconds ticked off the clock, both offenses seemed to finally come alive. UNC’s Megan Bosica scored with 27 seconds left, only to see Dowd convert a behind-the-back beauty 10 seconds later (a play which made SportsCenter’s Top 10 highlight reel) and it appeared Northwestern would take that lead into the intermission. But the Tar Heels’ Laura Zimmerman notched her second of the game with one second remaining on the clock as the teams went into the locker room tied at four. Unlike the earlier meeting in Evanston, however, the late Tar Heel goal seemed to spark the Wildcat offense early in the second half. Goals off the sticks of Smith and Frank in the opening 1:39 pushed Northwestern’s advantage to two at 6-4.The second half then turned into a shooting gallery similar to the first meeting between the two teams. Northwestern and North Carolina combined for nine goals over the next 13 minutes, all of which were unassisted, with the Wildcats holding a 10-9 lead at the midway point of the second half off a pair of goals from Spencer and one each from Fitzgerald and Dowd. From there, Northwestern gained possession and began to pull away from the Tar Heels. Goals from Smith, Frank and Matthews extended Northwestern’s lead to four at 13-9 before Dowd put an exclamation mark on the game, breaking a North Carolina double-team behind the net and slipping her third of the game past Ripley to put the Wildcats up 14-9 with three minutes to go.The Tar Heels tried to mount one last rally, trimming the deficit to four at 14-10, but Fitzgerald slammed the door closed, finishing off a feed from sophomore Kendall Santulli (Hinsdale, Ill./Central) to propel the Wildcats into Sunday’s championship game.Northwestern held the advantage in nearly every statistical category, outshooting North Carolina 34-21 while holding a 17-15 edge in ground balls. The two teams finished even with 12 turnovers and played much crisper lacrosse in the second half as the Wildcats committed 11 first half turnovers to the Tar Heels’ 10.Sophomore goalkeeper Brianne LoManto (Miller Place, N.Y./Rocky Point) finished with seven saves on the night for the Wildcats, including three in the closing minutes to keep the North Carolina rally at bay. Freshman Gabriella Flibotte (Cohasset, Mass./Groton School) had a big day defensively for Northwestern, causing a pair of turnovers with four ground balls. Fitzgerald and Frank also added three draw controls each for NU.It was a great night for lacrosse at Johnny Unitas stadium as 8,762 fans attended the semifinal, marking the largest crowd to watch a women’s lacrosse game in the United States.Northwestern is now one game away from hoisting its sixth consecutive national championship, but has arguably its toughest challenge ahead of it. In a game that many in the lacrosse world have been waiting for, top-ranked Maryland awaits the Wildcats Sunday after taking care of Syracuse 14-5 in the day’s first semifinal. It marks the first meeting between the two powerhouses since 2007 and marks the first time Amonte Hiller will take on her alma mater and former teammate Cathy Reese in the NCAA tournament.Sunday’s opening draw is set for 4:30 p.m. CT at Johnny Unitas Stadium