Behind a turnover forced by Taylor Thornton at the end of regulation and a game-winning overtime goal from Amanda Macaluso, No. 4 Northwestern defeated No. 8 Penn State in a close 9-8 overtime victory Friday, advancing to the final round of the ALC Tournament. The Wildcats will get another shot at the conference title after losing to Florida in last year's final.
From the beginning of the game, the Cats knew a win would be hard-fought. Northwestern and Penn State traded goals for much of the first half, with junior midfielder Alyssa Leonard starting scoring for the Wildcats and the senior Thornton following about seven minutes later. It was an unusually long period between goals for Northwestern's offense, but that was the kind of game the Wildcats knew they'd have to play against a defensive Nittany Lions team.
Thorton and senior midfielder Gabriella Flibotte scored back-to-back goals after 20 minutes of play, making the score 4-2 for Northwestern. Penn State answered with two successive goals of it's own, both by sophomore Kelly Lechner, who would score another decisive goal towards the end of the game.
Northwestern was squarely back in the lead at 7-4 behind three consecutive goals from senior midfielder Ali Cassera, senior attacker Erin Fitzgerald and junior midfielder Kat DeRonda. Penn State scored once more before halftime, leaving Northwestern with a slight 7-5 advantage at the break.
Sophomore goalie Bridet Bianco notched two saves in the first half, saving only 42 percent of shots fired at her. Northwestern did handily control first-half draw controls with seven. Flibotte alone had seven draw controls in the game, the highest of her career.
The second half certainly slowed down, as only four goals were allowed. Senior midfielder Amanda Macaluso was the only goal-scorer for the Cats in the half, getting a free position shot just over a minute into play.
Penn State fired back, scoring three times and tying the score 8-8. As high-pressure games do, this one went down to the wire. The conference rivals would have to go into overtime.
After almost four minutes of scoreless play, Macaluso proved to be just what Northwestern needed, the game-winning goal unassisted. Coming off Senior Day in which Northwestern scored over 50 percent of it's goals off assists, all of its goals on Friday night were either unassisted or free positions.
Northwestern will face old rival Florida in the title game Sunday. The Gators are coming off a convincing 17-3 win again Ohio State and have already beaten Northwestern once this season, a 22-4 beatdown back on Apr. 20. The championship game will be played Sunday in Baltimore at 11 a.m. CST.