It took more than a decade, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish finally got the best of Northwestern at Lake Barrington Field House on Wednesday night.
The Irish scored three goals in the final three minutes of play to cap a shocking 9-8 comeback victory over a team they had not beaten since 2003.
“I think lack of mental focus has definitely plagued us the first several games,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “Unfortunately, we got the back end of it tonight and Notre Dame was able to really take advantage of our mistakes. In order for us to move forward, we’ve got to clean that up.”
Senior Lauren Sullivan scored the game-winning goal with 1:15 remaining. Northwestern sophomore Lauren Murray had a chance to force overtime on an 8-meter shot with 47 seconds remaining, but Notre Dame goalie Allie Murray saved the shot to clinch the win.
It was a tale of two halves for Northwestern. The Irish could not have started out any quicker, scoring just 11 seconds into the contest. NU was shut out for the first 15 minutes of play. The Wildcats were outshot 17-8 in the first half and trailed 3-1 at halftime.
NU started more aggressively in the second half and grabbed their first lead of the game, 5-4, with 20:57 remaining. After withstanding a short run by the Irish, Northwestern scored three unanswered goals in a span of five minutes to regain the lead.
With three minutes remaining Northwestern led 8-6. The momentum was in its favor and its fourth straight victory appeared to be within reach. But the Irish broke through late and rode a three-nothing run of its own to the game’s fourth lead change and a massive upset.
Notre Dame outshot NU 33 to 21. Both keepers, Murray and NU junior Bridget Bianco, were stingy in net and combined for 16 saves. Senior Alyssa Leonard had a hat trick and added four draw controls. She needs just 11 more draw controls to tie the NCAA record.
Northwestern overcame halftime deficits to beat nationally ranked Virginia and Duke earlier this season but was unable do so tonight. Before tonight’s loss, Northwestern had beaten Notre Dame 14 consecutive times.
Northwestern moves to 3-1 on the season and will fall from the coveted top four in the rankings (top four teams get to host the regional round come tournament time). Notre Dame, on the other hand, moves to 4-2 and should climb from its current rank of 13.
Northwestern will next play at Ohio State on Sunday in what will be the first of a three-game road stand.
“I think that we have to just look at ourselves,” Amonte Hiller said, “and figure out individually and as a group how we have to get better and put this behind us, learn from it and get ready for a great team in Ohio State.”