In a five-and-a-half hour heartbreaker that included multiple delays, a location change and a blown lead, Northwestern fell 2-1 to Penn State in the Big Ten Championship match. But, the 'Cats still reached the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season, and will host Butler at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
A 90-minute start-time delay set the tone for what would be a long, rain-filled day. Playing in Westfield, Indiana, the ‘Cats jumped to a 1-0 lead thanks to a 38-minute goal when Kylie Fisher launched a perfect cross from the right side of the box and Nia Harris slotted it into the bottom left corner of the net.
A 1-0 lead with Lauren Clem in goal is often enough for the ‘Cats – but not on Sunday, when the weather killed the momentum.
Just after the goal, lightning forced the officials to call a weather delay that went on for two-and-a-half hours before the game was eventually moved inside to a turf field. The last few minutes of the half ended quietly, with the ‘Cats getting off only three shots during the period (compared to Penn State’s nine).
Clem and the defense continued to hold strong after the second half started, but the game began to unravel in the 71st minute. Penn State’s Laura Freigang scored the equalizer on a header. Just eight minutes later, PSU’s Haleigh Echard gave the Nittany Lions the lead with a strike to the lower right corner from just outside the box.
The ‘Cats never recovered. For whatever reason, the offense couldn’t get going on the turf – they had only one shot compared to Penn State’s 10 in the second half. Even with an incredible goalie, it’s hard for any team to overcome that wide a margin in shots taken.
Penn State was the lower seed in the tournament but were better ranked nationally at No. 11 in the country. Fortunately for the ‘Cats, their impressive conference tournament showing netted them a spot in the NCAA tournament, where they reached the Sweet 16 last year.