On March 19, Northwestern leveled the score against UNC with about 17 minutes left in the second half before allowing UNC to score seven of the final nine goals for a 17-12 loss.
On April 2, Northwestern held a lead with about 17 minutes left in the second half, but the ‘Cats allowed Penn to score five straight goals for a 10-7 Quakers win.
But on Saturday, it was Northwestern’s turn for a clutch late run.
Trailing 8-7 with just under 18 minutes remaining, the No. 16 Wildcats (8-7, 3-1 B1G) rattled off five goals in a row to stun No. 20 Duke (7-7, 1-5 ACC) 12-10 on Senior Day at Martin Stadium. With the win, the Wildcats bounced back from a Thursday thriller against Penn State and improved their record to 8-7. It was just Northwestern’s second win over a ranked opponent in eight attempts – and if the Wildcats hope to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, this win could go a long way.
Until Northwestern’s late surge, neither team ever led by more than two goals in what was a tightly-contested, sometimes sluggish affair. With about 19 minutes left and the score tied at seven, Northwestern thought it had snagged a lead when Sheila Nesselbush’s shot beat Duke goalie Gabbe Cadoux, but the goal was ruled to be scored on a dangerous shot and was waved off. Duke wasted no time and seized the momentum, scoring moments later to grab an 8-7 lead.
For the next 14 minutes, though, it was all Wildcats. Lindsey McKone drove the net and drew a double team, leaving Danita Stroup open in front of the cage, and the senior buried the chance to complete her hat trick and level the score with 13:15 on the clock, tying the game.
Claire Quinn followed quickly with an unassisted goal, and Shelby Fredericks won the ensuing draw and soon got the ball back, cycling around from behind the cage and burying a shot of her own to make it 10-8. Less than a minute later, Fredericks again cycled from behind the cage, but this time she dished to an open Nicole Beardsley, who scored NU’s third goal in two minutes.
But the ‘Cats weren’t done: Five minutes later, Catie Ingrilli laid it off for Liza Elder, who couldn’t be slowed down on the left side and buried one to put the finishing touches on a 5-0 Northwestern run. Duke’s Maddie Crutchfield brought two goals back, both from free-positions, in the final four minutes, but it was too little, too late. The Wildcats had a crucial victory.
It’s no secret that Shelby Fredericks is critical to this team’s success. She won most of the draws against Penn State (to the tune of a program-record 17 draw controls in a match), but when Madison Carter and company got the upper hand, the Nittany Lions were able to mount some runs. A similar trend emerged Saturday. Olivia Jenner and the Blue Devils held their own in the first half, but Fredericks got it going in the second period, capturing most of her eight DCs after halftime. Northwestern beat Duke in the draw circle in the second by a tally of nine to five.
Wildcat leading scorer Christina Esposito was held scoreless thanks to the faceguard Duke threw on her for much of the match. But in her absence, a host of other Wildcats stepped up. After being silenced by the Nittany Lions, Danita Stroup got back to her scoring ways against the Blue Devils with a trio of goals. Fredericks had three assists and two goals and Beardsley scored a pair to extend her point streak to three games. But the Wildcats’ best source of offense lately has been Liza Elder: despite not recording a single point in the first five games of the year, Elder has vaulted into fifth on the team in both points and goals. Head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller has been searching for depth scoring options ever since Selena Lasota went down with an injury, and it seems she has found one.
The importance of this win cannot be understated, especially in the face of Thursday’s loss. A team must have a .500 record or better to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and the Wildcats now stand at 8-7 with two regular season games left. The final game of the year is against the undefeated No. 1 team in the nation, Maryland. Assuming the ‘Cats lose that game, Northwestern must win its next match next Saturday at Rutgers, a team with an 8-6 record that is playing better than expected. A win there would guarantee the Wildcats a spot in the B1G Tournament, and with it, the chance of an automatic bid to the Big Dance. Even with a loss to Maryland in the regular season and a potential first round loss in the conference tourney, a win over Rutgers would ensure a .500 record for a team that is currently clinging to the No. 16 ranking in a sport where only 16 teams qualify for the postseason. Have the Wildcats done enough to make it in? We can only wait and see.