Lacrosse: Hot start, clutch finish pushes Notre Dame past Northwestern

 Junior goalkeeper Bridget Bianco lunges to make a save. Bianco recorded eight saves in Northwestern loss to Notre Dame on Wednesday.

Daily file photo by Melody Song

Junior goalkeeper Bridget Bianco lunges to make a save. Bianco recorded eight saves in Northwestern loss to Notre Dame on Wednesday.

Ava Wallace, Sports Editor

This wasn’t a case of too little, too late for Northwestern. It seemed as though Notre Dame wanted the win more.

The Wildcats (3-1) fell for the first time this season, a 9-8 defeat against Notre Dame (4-2) at an indoor facility in Lake Barrington, Ill., after having tied the game with just 2:21 left to play. 

Notre Dame took the next draw possession and scored with 1:16 left on the clock.  NU had nothing left to give after Fighting Irish goalie Allie Murray blocked sophomore midfielder Lauren Murray’s 8-meter shot with less than a minute to go.  

The game ended as it started, with Notre Dame on top.

Off the first whistle, the Fighting Irish snagged the game’s first draw control, and Notre Dame’s Cortney Fortunato scored just 11 seconds in. Fortunato led her team with a hat trick on the night. 

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller attributed the Cats’ struggles to a lack of focus.

“I think that a lack of mental focus has definitely plagued us the first several games,” Amonte Hiller said. “We got the back end of it tonight, and Notre Dame was able to take advantage of our mistakes. And in order for us to move forward, we’ve got to clean that up. We’ve got a good team and a lot of good individual players, but we’ve got to figure that out.”

Amonte Hiller’s assessment makes sense for a team that, despite an occasional tendency to take some time to really warm up in a game, isn’t used to its opponent jumping the gun.

And despite the back-and-forth scoring that defined a scrappier second half – the lead changed hands four times in the second period – the first was not pretty for the Cats. 

NU entered the locker room trailing Notre Dame 3-1 and in unfamiliar territory. The Cats were behind in draw controls, 3-2, shots, 17-8, and ground balls, 11-8. The Fighting Irish were winning the possession game.

Amonte Hiller also noted the number of unforced errors the Cats committed, especially in the second half: NU ended the game with 15 turnovers compared to road squad’s 10. 

Notre Dame also deserves its share of credit. The Fighting Irish showed a staunch defense and their presence on the circle forced Amonte Hiller to rotate out her centers.

Senior draw control specialist Alyssa Leonard usually takes the majority of NU’s draws, and though it’s not uncommon for her to share the circle with teammates in games, draw control numbers were more spread out. Leonard won four, freshman phenom Sheila Nesselbush nabbed three and tied junior goalkeeper Bridget Bianco for a team-leading three ground balls and sophomore midfielder Kaleigh Craig snatched three draw controls as well.

The Cats ended up edging Notre Dame 11-8 on draw controls. 

Amonte Hiller said she was pleased with Bianco’s performance. The sophomore had eight saves, the same as her Notre Dame counterpart, but came up big in crucial moments. NU’s defense also worked well together, completing 17 of 18 clears, but weren’t able to stick with the Fighting Irish’s shooters all the way to the cage. 

“Our defense was doing a good job of getting out playing them and forcing them to take some nice shots,” Amonte Hiller said. “(Bianco) was able to come up with some big saves for us, which led us to some good opportunities offensively. We just weren’t able to finish the game.”

The Cats have just three days to recover from the setback before kicking off conference play at Ohio State on Sunday morning.

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