If you leave Steph Curry wide open, he’s going to score.
If you leave Alex Ovechkin wide open, he’s going to score.
If you leave Danita Stroup wide open, she’s going to score.
In short, leave elite finishers open at your own peril. Ohio State learned that lesson the hard way Thursday night, as the Buckeyes were burned by Stroup and the No. 16 Northwestern Wildcats, 15-8. With the win, the Wildcats improved to 7-6 overall and maintained a perfect 3-0 record in the Big Ten.
They say that three is a magic number, but six was the magic number for the ‘Cats on Thursday: Mallory Weisse made six saves, Shelby Fredericks recorded six points and Danita Stroup scored a career-best six goals to lead the Wildcats to a bounce-back win over the Buckeyes. Stroup’s goals came on just six shots and were all assisted, underscoring that while she might not be able to create her own shot, when she is put in a position to score, she is absolutely lethal.
Northwestern wasted no time getting on the scoresheet Thursday as Fredericks beat Jill Rizzo just 35 seconds in. Thirty-three seconds later, Stroup got her career day started on a feed from Catie Ingrilli. Lindsey McKone joined the party nine minutes later as the ‘Cats built a 3-0 lead in just over ten minutes. After OSU got on the board through Baley Parrott, Stroup struck again, and Liza Elder remained red hot with her seventh goal in the last seven games to build up a 5-1 Northwestern lead. Ohio State got one back at 5:33, but Stroup scored yet again 33 seconds later to complete her hat trick in just 25 minutes. The Wildcats headed into halftime with a 6-2 lead.
Northwestern struck first in the second half on a free-position goal from Ingrilli, but Ohio State responded with a pair of goals to cut the deficit to 7-4. In short order, however, that pair of goals was cancelled by a pair from (guess who?) Danita Stroup.
But then, something quite unusual happened. After making a save, Wildcat goalkeeper Mallory Weisse had the ball in her stick and looked to clear it. But instead of the ball coming out of her cradle and going forward, it went straight back – right into the yawning cage. Weisse looked flustered, OSU looked grateful, and the Buckeyes had a great opportunity to capitalize on a crazy error to snatch the momentum and get back in the game.
But they didn’t. Instead, the Buckeyes could only watch as the Wildcats rattled off four straight goals over 5:10 to extend the lead to 13-5 and put the game out of reach. Fredericks, Ingrilli and Elder all scored their second goals of the game sandwiching one from Christina Esposito. Ohio State snagged a pair back, but any whiff of a comeback was squashed by another pair of Northwestern goals - Fredericks finished off her hat trick, but not before Stroup finished off her second – hat trick, that is. The Buckeyes scored a final goal on relief keeper Holly Korn, but were thoroughly outplayed by a team that needs some wins to even be eligible for the NCAA Tournament in a few weeks.
Northwestern’s ridiculously hard schedule gets a little tougher as the season winds down. Next up for the Wildcats is a home date with No. 6 Penn State next Thursday with Duke looming on the following Sunday. Northwestern will finish at Rutgers and then at home to No. 1 Maryland, which has once again looked like the far-and-away best team in the nation. A win over Rutgers would do wonders for the Wildcats’ hopes to make the Big Ten Tournament, which features only four teams this year. And if Northwestern fails to beat the powerhouses of Penn State and Maryland, it will need a win over Duke as well to ensure a record of at least .500. For the second straight year, a trip to the NCAA Tournament is very much in doubt.