Men’s Soccer: Wildcats can’t hold on to momentum against Badgers

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Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Sophomore goalkeeper Zak Allen, who filled in for an ill Tyler Miller, and freshman defender Nathan Dearth, lunge to stop a Wisconsin attack Sunday. The Badgers battled Northwestern’s defense all afternoon and broke through once to claim a 1-0 victory.

Bobby Pillote, Reporter

Northwestern didn’t gain much traction in its penultimate game.

The No. 25 Wildcats (9-5-3, 1-3-1 Big Ten) fell to the No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers (12-3-2, 3-2-0) Sunday at Lakeside Field in a 1-0 loss. NU sorely missed the presence of one of its best players, senior midfielder Chris Ritter. A team co-captain, Ritter suffered an ankle sprain in the Oct. 30 game against Loyola.

“He’s day to day right now,” coach Tim Lenahan said. “Hopefully he’ll be back by the Big Ten Tournament.”

Stepping up to take Ritter’s place, junior defender Nikko Boxall was busy early. Within the first five minutes, Boxall broke up a Wisconsin drive into the box and deflected a cross. The dynamic center-back was also active on offense, recording two shots off headers in the first half.

“Without Ritter, we knew it was going to be a struggle,” Boxall said. “I thought maybe as one of the leaders I could try and push myself into that role and help the team out, but today it just wasn’t good enough.”

The Cats had an excellent scoring opportunity midway through the opening period. Sophomore midfielder Cole Missimo took a corner kick and directed a low pass to the near side of the box, where sophomore forward Joey Calistri was waiting. The Big Ten’s leading goal scorer had his drive blocked by a Badgers defender. Missimo corralled the deflection and took his own shot, but Wisconsin goalkeeper Max Jentsch was there to make the save.

The Badgers attack immediately countered. Wisconsin midfielder Tomislav Zadro took a shot that was saved by NU sophomore goalkeeper Zak Allen. The Badgers had a clear shot on the resulting rebound, but the ball was booted well over the crossbar.

Both teams made an offensive push to end the half, but as time expired, the game remained scoreless.

Wisconsin stayed aggressive to open the second period. The Badgers nearly scored seven minutes in when a header by midfielder Jacob Brindle, who leads the team with 8 goals this season, bounced off the left post. Allen laid out going for the save, and a Wisconsin follow-up shot narrowly rolled past the far side of the open net.

The Badgers kept the pressure on, driving back into the box only minutes later. Forward Chris Prince crossed to midfielder Nick Janus 10 yards from the net, and Janus easily pushed the ball past a helpless Allen to give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead.

“We made a mistake on the back end,” Lenahan said. “You can’t make mistakes. … If you limit those things, you are going to make the other team play great soccer to beat you.”

NU rallied toward the end of regulation, but it wasn’t enough for a team that has struggled all season to score in Big Ten play. Boxall took a free kick in the 58th minute from 25 yards out that was blasted directly into a Badgers defender. Calistri had a good run into the box with eight minutes to play, but his shot was deflected just high over the crossbar.

The loss was the Cats’ third in conference play this fall. NU has one more opportunity to improve its seeding in the Big Ten Tournament, as it faces Indiana in its final regular season match Friday.

“We need to be the team with the intangibles,” Lenahan said. “Today we kind of waited for things to happen, and it happened against us. I don’t think we had a real pulse or the energy that it takes to win a Big Ten game.”

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