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Northwestern knocks off Florida, heads to 10th straight Final Four

When it rains, it pours.

And if the rain were goals, it was certainly a flood for both Northwestern and Florida in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, but the Wildcats were able to stem the tide just slightly better and beat the Gators 12-11 in overtime. They will head to their 10th straight Final Four to take on No. 1 seed Maryland on Friday.

"We're obviously very excited about the win," coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "I think Florida is just such an unbelievable team. Obviously they've tested us greatly this season...I have a lot of respect for their players and their coaching staff. It just makes this win pretty special for us."

Florida came into the game sporting a 28-game win streak at home. But the Northwestern fans showed up strong in Gainesville, especially in overtime.

Both of the previous two games between these teams this season were played in Evanston. Those also ended in one-goal wins, but Florida came out on top then.

In the one that mattered, it was NU celebrating on the opponent's home field.

The goals came in bunches for both teams. Only twice did a team score just one goal. Let's visualize:

Northwestern Logo 1-0 NU

florida logo florida logoflorida logoflorida logo 4-1 Florida

Northwestern LogoNorthwestern LogoNorthwestern LogoNorthwestern Logo HALFTIME: 5-4 NU

florida logoflorida logoflorida logoflorida logo 8-5 Florida

Northwestern LogoNorthwestern Logo8-7 Florida

florida logo9-7 Florida

Northwestern LogoNorthwestern LogoNorthwestern Logo10-9 NU

florida logoflorida logo11-10 Florida

Northwestern LogoNorthwestern LogoFINAL: 12-11

After Alyssa Leonard kicked off the scoring less than three minutes into the game, the Gators rallied off four straight goals and controlled possession for the majority of the first 15 minutes.

Florida's powerhouse duo, ALC Rookie of the Year Sammi Burgess and ALC Midfielder of the Year Shannon Gilroy, who have combined for an incredible 124 scores this year, both contributed a goal for the Gators in that run. Gilroy, who leads the country (by far) with 86 goals this season, struggled to get any space in the first half though, while being faceguarded by NU's Kerri Harrington.

"Honestly, (Gilroy)'s very difficult to stop," Amonte Hiller said. "She's probably one of the most talented players I've ever seen."

The Cats rallied with four goals in the final 15 minutes of the first half. They turned a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead in the span of two minutes and two seconds to end the first period.

The Gators wasted no time regaining the lead though, scoring two goals right out of the game to start the second half. That's when Gilroy began to find her groove, using every inch of space to rocket off a shot. She knocked in two straight goals to give Florida its second three-goal lead of the game.

Then Northwestern's seniors, who have never missed a Final Four in their college careers, kicked it into gear. Christy Turner halted the Gators' four-goal run with her 16th score of the year. Then Leonard scooped a ball of the ground and, in the same motion, pinwheeled it into the back of the net to bring the Cats within one.

After a score by Burgess, Kat DeRonda hit her first goal of the game - her 33rd of the year - followed by scores from Kate Macdonald and Leonard to give the Cats a one-goal lead with 14 minutes left in the game.

But an NU-Florida match is never over with nearly 15 minutes left. Florida tied the game, then took the lead, to set up a finish befitting of the classic rivalry between these two ALC opponents.

With four minutes left and NU playing a player up because of a yellow card, DeRonda finished again to tie the game. Then, with 1:35 left, Florida turned the ball over and NU set itself up for the last shot of the game. But the Cats couldn't get a shot off, so, fittingly, the game entered overtime tied at 11.

NU nearly took a one-goal lead on a Leonard score, but it was disallowed because of a charging call. The first period of the first overtime ended without a score.

The Cats won the draw control to start the second half of the first overtime and started its attack first. Neither team managed a shot until 16 seconds remained. That's when DeRonda stepped in front of the goal for the third time in the game and fired a shot off, hitting the back of the net.

"I think just moving the ball, being unselfish, is what's really made this team successful," DeRonda said. "I just happened to be there. It could have been anyone."

Florida won the ensuing draw control and Burgess gave the Gators one last hope with a shot attempt, but it went high and NU ran out the clock.

Seniors scored the last seven goals for the Cats, if that gives any indication as to how much they didn't want to be the first senior class in a decade to miss the Final Four.

"I think this team has really got a lot of fight in them, "Amonte Hiller said. "We've played in every situation imaginable this year. We've played down, we've played up, we've played a lot of one-goal games. I think that experience definitely benefited us today. When a final four trip is on the line, no one is going to lay down.

"I'm just really proud of this team this year," she said. "A lot of people have counted them out, and I'm just proud of the way they displayed their talent on the field today."

NU will head to the Big Ten Conference next season, so regular match-ups between these two teams aren't a given. That's a shame, because they provided three of the most entertaining games of the lacrosse season this year.