On to the finals

Jimmy Mitchell

TOWSON, Md. – Heading into halftime Friday, Northwestern held a fragile one-point lead after being unable to hold down the up-and-coming Syracuse lacrosse program.

The Orange outdrew the Wildcats 8-6 in the first half. Junior goalkeeper Morgan Lathrop recorded only one save out of seven Syracuse shots on goal.

It appeared as if NU was waiting for something to happen.

In the second half, junior attacker Hilary Bowen made it happen. Her six goals broke the NU single-season goal scoring record and drove the Cats to a 16-8 semifinal victory and a spot in Sunday’s national championship game at Johnny Unitas Stadium.

“(Syracuse) was playing us really aggressively, and I thought, we had nothing to lose,” Bowen said. “Just go out there, try to make something happen.”

Bowen finished the game with six goals, matching her season high. Her fifth goal of the game was her 77th of the year, the most any player ever has recorded in one year at NU.

With the win, NU will go on to play Penn, which won Friday’s other semifinal game in overtime against Duke, with a fourth consecutive national championship at stake. Penn is the only team to have beaten NU this year. The Quakers won 11-7 in Philadelphia on April 27 in NU’s regular season finale.

After a hard-fought first period on both sides, the Cats outscored the Orange 9-2 in the second half. Syracuse did not manage its first shot attempt in the second half until only three minutes remained in the game.

“They really wore Syracuse down,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “They came out in the second half and played extremely aggressive. Syracuse is a great program, and we knew it was going to be a battle.”

The Orange’s greatest offensive threat, junior attacker and national points leader Katie Rowan, was completely neutralized by NU’s defense. Sophomore midfielder Maggie Bremer, who guarded Rowan throughout the entirety of the semifinal matchup, held the Tewaaraton Trophy finalist to zero goals on two shot attempts.

It was the second game in a row that Bremer held the nation’s points leader scoreless.

“I know it seems like a single stat, me blocking her out, but it’s really not,” Bremer said. “It’s our whole defense.”

Friday’s overall result mirrored NU’s victory over Syracuse on March 24, in which the Cats outscored the Orange 14-3 in the second half after a closely contested first period.

“It tells you that they are an experienced team,” Syracuse coach Gary Gait said of NU’s pair of similar victories over his team. “It tells you how athletic they are and that they can go 100 percent for the entire game.”

In a first half punctuated by momentum shifts and lead changes, Syracuse delivered the opening blow with a goal from senior Kristin Brady only ninety seconds into the game.

NU answered back a minute later, as junior midfielder Meredith Frank evened the score at one after the receiving end from a quick pass from junior midfielder Hannah Nielsen from behind the net. Another goal from Frank gave the Cats a 2-1 lead just over eight minutes into the game.

NU’s slow and deliberate offensive strategy kept the ball out of Orange possession for much of opening period, as Syracuse did not record its second goal until more than 16 minutes into the half.

Junior Megan Mosenson of Syracuse put the Orange ahead 5-4 with a pair of goals before the Cats finished the half on a 3-1 run to retake the lead.

For the seniors on the Cats’ roster, including NU captain Christy Finch, championships have been all they have ever known.

“I feel pretty lucky,” Finch said. “I know a lot of people can’t even say they’ve been to one. I’m so lucky to be here.”

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Read The DAILY’s live blog of the game here.