The motivation for Northwestern lacrosse was clear: beat Ohio State, or miss the NCAA Tournament.
In order to accomplish that goal, the Wildcats turned to their stars. And on Friday in Columbus, Ohio, the stars shone brightly, leading No. 15 Northwestern (8-8, 3-2 Big Ten) to a critical 22-13 rout of the No. 19 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-5, 2-3 Big Ten).
After Ohio State took a 3-2 lead with 22:21 on the clock in the first half thanks to two goals in 11 seconds, Northwestern’s offense got started, scoring four goals in fewer than four minutes to nab a 6-3 lead. Ohio State went on a 3-1 run to cut the ‘Cats’ lead to one with 8:18 left in the half, Northwestern countered with a 3-1 run of their own to head into halftime with a 10-7 lead.
Northwestern’s Kaleigh Craig scored 25 seconds into the second frame to extend the lead to 11-7, but Ohio State’s offense awoke, scoring four goals in under three minutes to level the score at 11 with 25:54 left in the game.
Enter Selena Lasota. She scored three times in the first half, but she was far from finished; after Ohio State tied the game, Northwestern scored six unanswered goals, four from Lasota, to leap out into a 17-11 lead with 18:24 left. After Buckeye star Cian Dabrowski scored her fourth of the game to stop the bleeding somewhat, the Wildcats scored four more unanswered to extend their lead to 21-12. Ohio State would add one final tally with under five minutes to play, but Lasota put the ribbon on her banner day and the nail in the Buckeyes’ coffin with her career-high eighth goal of the day, capping off Northwestern’s season-best offensive output in a 22-13 victory.
Lasota’s eight strikes were the second-most in a game in school history, and the most by a Big Ten player this season. Lasota fired 12 shots, nine of which went on frame, both the most she’s had in a game since the season opener against Duke. She also picked up two ground balls, caused three turnovers, and won six draws. Craig turned in another fine performance with four goals, six points, and a game-high four ground balls. Christina Esposito tied her career high with a five-point performance on the strength of four assists, while both Shelby Fredericks and Leighton Yenor tallied hat tricks.
But in a game where the stars came to play, Northwestern’s eventual game-winning goal came off the stick of an unlikely contributor. With 20:52 left to play, the third of Northwestern’s six straight goals was scored by defender Shannon Nesselbush. Not only was the score the first of her collegiate career, it also came on the first shot of her collegiate career. Nesselbush becomes the 19th different Wildcat to find the back of the cage this season, and it couldn’t have come at a more important time.
With the win, the Wildcats improve to 8-8, and their 3-2 Big Ten record is good enough to make them the third seed in the Big Ten Tournament next week on their home field, where they’ll take on either Rutgers or Michigan, a team that Northwestern manhandled earlier this year. And in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, the motivation will once again be clear: win the game. If they do, the Wildcats will guarantee their eligibility for the NCAA Tournament, something that was far from a guarantee not too long ago.