With 24:35 left to play in the second half against Penn last weekend, Northwestern women’s lacrosse found itself trailing 12-5.
Since then, the Wildcats have outscored their opponents 45-18.
On Sunday, No. 13 Northwestern (6-6, 1-1 Big Ten) continued its late-season resurgence with a convincing 17-12 win over No. 5 Notre Dame (10-4, 3-3 ACC).
“In the second half of Penn we just decided to play,” head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “We just basically said, ‘We’re going to go after this. We’re going to play fearless. We’re going to give it everything we got.' There’s that little sense of desperation, and it’s showing on the field.”
It certainly showed Sunday. After falling behind 2-0 inside the first three-and-a-half minutes of play, Northwestern rattled off five unanswered. After the Irish stemmed the tide with a score with 12:02 left in the first half, the Wildcats responded with another four goals, heading into halftime with a 9-3 lead over a team that had previously surrendered an average of fewer than eight goals over an entire game.
But Notre Dame came to play in the second. Star attack Cortney Fortunato scored three times in less than 14 minutes to lead her team on a 5-2 run to open the half, cutting the deficit to 11-8 with 16:26 to play. They would not get closer. Christina Esposito scored twice in the next 4:29 to extend the lead to five goals, and after Fortunato scored her fifth of the game with 10:58, the Irish attacker picked up her second yellow card of the game, resulting in her ejection. Without its best scorer, Notre Dame couldn’t get closer than four goals down, and Northwestern gladly traded goals down the stretch, punctuated by Esposito’s breakaway finish with 20 seconds left, resulting in a decisive 17-12 win.
“I usually have the mindset every game to just be an animal, and just leave it out on the field,” Esposito said. “I don’t want to walk off and have the same feeling that we’ve had towards the middle part of the season. Every single practice it’s been more of a desperation thing, we don’t have time to hold back anymore, so I’ve just been going full force.”
The redshirt junior finished the day with four goals and an assist for her third-straight five-point game, while Selena Lasota, building off a six-goal outburst Thursday against Michigan, scored five times.
But the story of the first half, and of the game, was Shelby Fredericks’ continued domination of the draw control circle. Northwestern won the first 11 draws, not allowing the Irish to secure one until there were just over five minutes to play in the first half. Fredericks herself tallied eight draw controls, setting a new career-high with 12 total on the day.
“We wanted to come out strong,” Amonte Hiller said. “Obviously in the first half, we did really well on draws. That was a huge factor in gaining momentum for us. And down the stretch when we had opportunities we put them away too, and that helped us keep the lead.”
On Friday, the Wildcats will face off against the currently undefeated University of Southern California, the second undefeated team Northwestern will play this year. They’ll need to continue to bring their impressive recent play to have a chance of beating the Trojans.
“Since that second half of Penn, we’ve been playing our best lacrosse,” Amonte Hiller said. “It wasn’t perfect. But we put a lot of heart into it and that’s what it takes to be successful.”