On Saturday in Southern California, Northwestern lacrosse came within centimeters of upsetting No. 4 USC (2-0), but some stellar goaltending and perhaps some bad luck stuck the ninth-ranked Wildcats (2-2) with an 11-10 overtime loss, the second straight result by that scoreline. Both squads showed some offensive skills, but the Women of Troy had the superior defense, causing more turnovers and picking up more ground balls, leading them to an early-season win in a highly-anticipated top-ten tussle.
USC’s Gussie Johns had a stellar performance with 17 saves – none bigger than when she stopped Selena Lasota in overtime. Northwestern thought the ball snuck over the line, but Johns dove back and clamped her stick over it, somehow extending the game. A few minutes later, the Women of Troy crusaded into the offensive zone. Northwestern goalie Mallory Weisse made a good save of her own on Kerrigan Miller’s free-position shot, but USC regrouped and got it back to Miller. The #1 overall recruit of this year’s freshman class crossed in front of the cage and slotted it past Weisse for the game winner – the talented freshman’s third goal of the game.
At many times, it looked like USC could’ve gotten the win in regulation. But the Wildcats battle back from down 5-2 and down 10-7 to force the extra frame and lose in heartbreaking fashion for the second weekend in a row.
The Wildcats got the scoring started on Saturday through Shelby Fredericks’ long-awaited first goal of the season, but the Women of Troy responded with four goals in five minutes – Miller scored the last two. The teams traded goals and USC had a 5-2 lead with 12 minutes to go in the half.
Northwestern was searching for offense, and it found some in the form of Christina Esposito – her 12th goal of the season sparked a 3-0 Northwestern run, punctuated by freshman Lindsey McKone’s first career goal to tie the game at five. Kylie Drexel scored to restore the USC lead, but Northwestern retaliated with goals from Selena Lasota and Nicole Beardsley, and the Wildcats had their first lead since the 27-minute mark. What they didn’t know is they wouldn’t lead again.
From there, it was the Drew Jackson show. The senior middie scored twice in the final three minutes of the half as part of a 3-0 USC run, and the Trojans held a 9-7 halftime lead. The interval did little to dampen Jackson’s hot streak, as she completed her hat trick 3:07 into the second half. The Trojans had reestablished a three-goal lead, but it would be quite a while until they scored again. Weisse made eight of her ten saves in the second half to keep USC at bay as the Wildcats scrounged for some goals. Finally, they found them in the form of Christina Esposito. Her pair of goals sandwiched one from Lasota as the Wildcats finally solved Johns and tied the game at 10. Neither team scored for over 16 minutes before Lasota’s tally, and neither team scored for the seven minutes after Esposito’s third score.
But both teams got close in overtime. A truly frenetic few minutes featured two saves from Johns, two caused turnovers from Northwestern, one near goal by a great player in Lasota, and ultimately one goal by a future great player in Miller.
It’s the second straight loss by a score of 11-10 in overtime for the Wildcats, but this result feels a little better than last week’s. Sure, losing to the fourth-ranked team in the country looks better than losing to an unranked foe, but Northwestern played better overall this time out. Against Colorado last week, Northwestern had chances to win but never capitalized; this week, USC dictated play for much of the contest, and Northwestern did well to force overtime against a team with legitimate national title aspirations in one of its first years of existence. And what might be the hardest schedule in the nation doesn’t get much easier for the Wildcats with a date against top-ten Syracuse next; but they’ll have some time to prepare for the contest with Gary Gait’s squad as they have nearly two weeks off before that matchup on March 3. Will another close loss spark the Wildcats moving forward? Or will it doom them to another underwhelming season? We’ll have to wait and see.