Lacrosse: Comeback Cats-Northwestern tops Virginia in overtime

After rain came and went at Lakeside Field on Friday night, lightning struck with 7:31 remaining in the match between No. 2 Northwestern and No. 4 Virginia. The game was suspended with the Wildcats trailing the Cavaliers 8-7, and NU would have lost if play could not continue.

Fortunately for the Cats, play resumed, and NU made the most of it.

Senior attacker Danielle Spencer tied the game at 8-8 with 50.2 seconds remaining, sending the contest into overtime. NU’s other two attackers made it rain on Virginia in the extra period, as Katrina Dowd scored twice and Shannon Smith put in another goal to seal the win for the Cats, 11-8.

NU (15-1, 5-0 ALC) had a chance to win the game with about 10 seconds remaining when sophomore attacker Alex Frank found freshman midfielder Erin Fitzgerald streaking toward the goal. Fitzgerald’s shot deflected off the right post and time expired.

The Cats were not about to let their new life go to waste in their first home overtime game since 2004.

“I was willing to wait forever,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “We were just hopeful that we would get a second-chance opportunity. They had told us after the first 20 minutes that it looked good, so we got prepared, we got excited, and we talked about some tactics we wanted to change.”

Both the offense and defense stepped up after the delay, as NU scored four unanswered goals to end the game. Spencer’s score with less than a minute remaining was the first of several shots from both teams in regulation to find the back of the net.

The goal was Spencer’s first and only goal in the game. Fresh off an eight-goal outburst against then-No. 8 Vanderbilt two weeks ago, Spencer was held in check Friday, similarly to when she did not score against then-No. 2 North Carolina.

This time though, she would not be shut out.

“For me, it’s not about scoring goals, but if we’re losing, I need to score a goal, I need to contribute in some way to help my team win,” Spencer said. “I was getting really frustrated, but I managed to stay collected and stay focused. My opportunity came and I put it away.”

Dowd scored four goals against the Cavaliers (13-5)-none more critical than the two she notched in overtime. Her first score came with 1:42 remaining in the first of two three-minute overtime periods. Then when the Cats were content with stalling behind the goal, a pair of Cavaliers defenders went after Dowd.

She weaved through the double team, wrapped around the net and buried her shot, invigorating the crowd and providing NU a cushion.

“Virginia doesn’t always pressure the ball behind, so I was back there alone, and I could see the whole field and saw the double coming,” Dowd said. “Once I rolled I had to put it away or else it was effort gone to waste, so I just did my thing.”

Dowd converted on four of her six shot opportunities, but the rest of her teammates scored with much less efficiency. The Cats tallied 11 goals on 32 shot opportunities-11 more chances than the Cavaliers had.

“Our shooting was tough today, ” Amonte Hiller said. “The opportunities we were taking weren’t the best-one dodge and a shot rather than working the ball around and looking for really open looks.”

While the offense struggled, the defense shined. NU allowed two goals in the first half and shut down Virginia after the rain delay due to a combination of forced turnovers and saves from sophomore goalkeeper Brianne LoManto.

Amonte Hiller, who has emphasized defensive intensity since the loss to the Tar Heels, called the defense the “one bright, shining spot coming out of this game.”

For the Cats, the near loss may prove valuable experience as the games become tighter in the upcoming ALC and NCAA tournaments.

“Maybe we would have liked to put the game away a little bit earlier, but it shows a lot from a young team,” Dowd said. “This is the first time some of them have been in an overtime situation, and to pull that out and get comfortable in the first overtime and riding out the last three minutes, I couldn’t be happier with how our team performed.”[email protected]