Men’s Soccer: Header-happy Hillgard helps Cats move on in NCAA tourney

Rodger Sherman

Jack Hillgard morphed into a scoring machine at the right time.

The junior doubled his career goal tally by heading home the first two goals in No. 9 Northwestern’s 3-1 second-round NCAA tournament victory over Notre Dame.

“He’s not going to set the 100-meter dash record,” said coach Tim Lenahan of the 6-foot-3 defensive midfielder. “But he’s been good at sitting in the hole for us, and as you can see, he’s a bit of an offensive force now.”

Hillgard’s headers and a 68th-minute goal by junior midfielder Piero Bellizzi gave NU its third three-goal performance of the year. But senior keeper Misha Rosenthal was arguably the game’s real star. Notre Dame mustered only one offensive shot on goal in the first half, but the Fighting Irish put forth an offensive barrage after intermission that featured 21 shots, 10 corners and 12 shots on goal.

Rosenthal was up to the challenge: He made a season-high 11 saves, including five that forced him to leave his feet to punch the ball over the net or sprawl out for the diving stop.

“You’d like to have the games where it’s just one or two saves,” Rosenthal said. “But you’ll do whatever it is, whatever it takes.”

NU forced a corner on its first true scoring opportunity in the 17th minute. A defender attempted to clear the ball, but Hillgard used his height to get a little bit of the ball and send it toward the goal. Fighting Irish goalie Andrew Quinn dove and appeared to clear the ball off the line, but the referee ruled the ball crossed the line and awarded NU with the goal.

“Things just fell into place,” Hillgard said. “It flew pretty high up in the air, and I just went up and got it.”

Hillgard struck again on a 53rd-minute counterattack. Senior forward Eamon O’Neill played a cross from the left side, and Hillgard hammered it home.

“I knew once Eamon got out wide he wants to serve,” Hillgard said. “And he’s usually spot on with his delivery.”

O’Neill hadn’t started most of the season, but proved his worth in a ceremonial Senior Day start against Michigan State.

Bellizzi’s 63rd-minute goal put the game on ice. Once again, O’Neill sparked the score: A ball played to Bellizzi drew Quinn out of net, but Bellizzi barely beat the keeper to the ball.

A simple sidestep left Bellizzi alone in front of an empty net, and the game appeared to be as good as done.

NU capitalized on its opportunities by scoring on each of its three shots on goal.

“The three goals we scored were a byproduct of great opportunties,” Lenahan said. “It’s like basketball. You get a layup, you should score. And we got layups today.”

NU’s three-goal lead was its first by such a margin all season. The Fighting Irish, realizing they had 30 minutes to salvage their season, responded by pushing forth an impressive offensive attack. After NU’s defense held Notre Dame to one shot on goal in the first 50 minutes, the Irish put 11 shots on goal the remainder of the game. All 10 of Notre Dame’s corner kicks came in the final 40 minutes, but the Cats handled the attack.

“I expected them to throw everything they had at us,” Rosenthal said. “For me, it’s easier when they’re coming at you. It’s easier for you to focus when the pressure’s constantly there.”

NU held strong, and despite giving up an 82nd minute goal to John Schaefer, the Cats earned their second victory of the season by more than one goal.

“Those last few minutes took forever, by the way,” Lenahan said.

NU will take on No. 8 Tulsa in a third-round matchup Sunday. The Cats beat the Golden Hurricane 3-2 in an overtime performance earlier in the season.[email protected]