Lacrosse: A New York state of mind: Northwestern knocks off Duke

Rohan Nadkarni

The Wildcats will get to party like it’s 2005 – and every year since.

For the eighth straight year, No. 2 Northwestern (19-2) will be going to the Final Four of the NCAA Championships, courtesy of a 12-7 win over No. 7 Duke (12-7) on Saturday night.

“Obviously we’re very excited to have the opportunity to make a trip to the Final Four,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “(It) never gets old. It’s a very, very special thing. (Saturday) was a great game.”

Junior midfielder Erin Fitzgerald led the Cats with four goals and senior Shannon Smith added three tallies in the win. Smith’s hat trick put the attacker in sole possession of first place on NU’s all-time goals list.

The Cats took control of the contest midway through the first half after a see-saw battle early on. A goal from junior defender Taylor Thornton with 13 minutes and 21 seconds to go in the first period started a stretch in which NU scored nine of the game’s next 10 goals. At halftime, the Cats led 6-4 and pushed that lead to 11-5 on Smith’s third goal of the game with nine minutes and 31 seconds left.

“It’s a huge honor,” Smith said of breaking the school record for goals. “I wouldn’t be able to have any of those goals if it wasn’t for my teammates. But right now, we’re just really excited to head back to Long Island for a Final Four and our game against Maryland on Friday night.”

NU was also heavily aided by goalie Brianne LoManto. The senior made eight saves total, including three outstanding stops from point-blank range.

“I thought Brianne just had a couple of huge saves (Saturday),” Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said. “She was a huge difference maker.”

The game started in favor of the Blue Devils. Duke scored the first two goals of the match, and after the Cats responded with two of their own, the Blue Devils added another pair. The scene was reminiscent of late regular season matchups with North Carolina and Florida in which NU fell behind early.

Duke got support from its fans, who were just as noisy as the NU crowd at Lakeside Field. Nearly half of the game’s 1,196 fans loudly cheered on the Blue Devils. But after Duke’s fourth goal, their fans and the team quieted down considerably. In the Cats’ 9-1 run, five different Cats found the back of the net including Fitzgerald and Smith.

NU also shut down attacker Emma Hamm, arguably the most dangerous goal-scorer on the Blue Devils. Sophomore defender Kerri Harrington face-guarded Hamm throughout the game, forcing the Duke senior to remain mostly outside of the offensive zone.

After the Cats went up 11-5, the Blue Devils mounted a small comeback when they scored two straight to draw within four goals. However, a strike by junior Gabriella Flibotte with one minute and 59 seconds left gave NU an insurmountable five-goal lead.

“Duke battled hard all the way to the end,” Amonte Hiller said. “We’re really pleased that we could seal the victory.”

Amonte Hiller was also pleased with the team’s effort on draw controls. After stressing that aspect of the game since the team’s second loss to Florida in the conference championship game, the Cats won the draw battle 12-9 against the Blue Devils. NU took seven of the 10 draws in the second half to help extend its lead.

Saturday’s game marked the final women’s lacrosse contest in Evanston this season. The team will travel to Stony Brook, N.Y., for the remainder of the tournament where NU will play 2011 runner-up Maryland in the semifinal game.

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