Lacrosse: Northwestern edges Penn State in overtime to set up Florida rematch


Daily file photo by Melody Song

Senior midfielder Gabriella Flibotte had 7 draw controls, helping Northwestern squeak past Penn State 9-8 to advance to the ALC championship game.

Ava Wallace, Assistant Sports Editor

The Wildcats looked like they were playing for their lives.

Although not a life-or-death situation in the literal sense, Northwestern held on to a 1-goal lead for the last 3:45 of overtime of their semifinal matchup with Penn State in the ALC tournament to win 9-8 in Baltimore.

The Cats stayed alive to play in their seventh-straight ALC tournament championship game Sunday against defending champions and top-seeded Florida.

The semifinal thriller was second-seeded NU (16-2, 4-1 ALC) and third-seeded Penn State’s (12-6, 4-1) second meeting of the year, and this time the game was more evenly contested than the first. Last month, the Cats controlled possession for nearly the entire game to beat the Nittany Lions 11-3, but Friday’s game was much more even with the teams posting nearly identical stats.

The level of competition was evident in both teams’ body language — a Penn State player throwing her stick after the referees made a call or after a bad play was not an unusual occurrence — but also in the 50/50 balls.

Nearly even in shots taken, shots on goal and caused turnovers, NU and Penn State traded advantages on draw controls and ground balls, both of which are pivotal for possession.

NU took 11 draw controls compared to Penn State’s 8, and the Nittany Lions took ground balls with 13 compared to the Cats’ 9. Senior midfielder Gabriella Flibotte dominated the midfield for NU and pulled a career-high 7 draw controls and led the team in ground balls with 4.

Junior midfielder Alyssa Leonard nabbed 3 draw controls, placing her just 5 draws away from the single-season record at NU.

Almost every draw was an all-out battle for possession, and both defenses played physical, but not necessarily assertive, games.

Both teams took risks on offenses. Senior attack Erin Fitzgerald, who continues to lead the Wildcats with 56 goals for the season, took 5 shots and came up with 1 goal. Senior midfielder Ali Cassera took 3 shots for 1 goal.

In the game’s back-and-forth moments, senior midfielder Taylor Thornton stepped up more obviously than she usually does in a typical game. She was one of the most efficient ball-handlers of the night, with 2 goals on 3 shots. She was also able to weave through the midfield, as she usually does when she has the ball, while her teammates and the Penn State players alike struggled with smooth transitions at times.

Defensively, Thornton tied with Flibotte to lead the team with 3 caused turnovers. Thornton was also tasked with guarding Penn State’s Kelly Lechner, who led her team in goals with a hat trick for the game.

The Cats’ best possessing and defending came in the last 4 minutes, when senior midfielder Amanda Macaluso scored in the first overtime period with 3:45 left to play.

From then on, NU was able to hold off Penn Sate and effectively handle the ball with smart passes on offense.

Sophomore goalie Bridget Bianco also came up with several crucial saves throughout the game, and the Cats were 13-for-14 on their clears.

NU now looks ahead to a rematch against defending tournament champions Florida on Sunday. The Gators beat the Cats 22-4 on April 20 and became the first ever team other than NU to win the ALC championship game last year.