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Northwestern lacrosse fends off Notre Dame in back-and-forth affair

Down a goal late in the second half, Northwestern came back to claim its fifth one-goal win of the season.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a tough loss on the road to Stony Brook this past weekend, Northwestern was back at it on Thursday in South Bend, Ind. to take on the No. 10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a mid-season, out-of-conference affair. The game saw many lead changes and neither team held momentum for too long, but, in the end, Northwestern goals from Kaleigh Craig and Sheila Nesselbush were too much for the Irish as NU held on for a huge 10-9 win.

Northwestern scored the game's first goal, thanks to Blake McHugh, but Notre Dame would strike back quickly with one of their own. Then, NU star Selena Lasota (whom we profiled earlier Thursday) took over a bit, scoring a few goals to extend NU's lead to 4-1.

However, even with back-to-back scores from Lasota, the Fighting Irish kept hanging around, and eventually tied the game back up with two straight goals to end the first half and one to start the second. From that point until the game's conclusion, Northwestern and Notre Dame went hit-for-hit for over 15 minutes with each team holding the lead for a minute or two only for the other to quickly respond.

NU's free and effective offensive play from the first half soon became stagnant as the more veteran Notre Dame team (relatively) shut down Lasota (4 goals on the night, 3 in the first half), forcing the Wildcats' other offensive players to step up in ways they normally don't have to. Craig (3 goals) and Kara Mupo (1 goal and 1 assist) both played well, but coach Kelly Amonte Hiller could have used a few more playmakers.

Still, even with just three goals in the first 25 minutes of the second half, the Wildcats were within striking distance with under six minutes left. Amonte Hiller called a timeout with her team down 9-8.

Then, 30 seconds after the timeout, Craig swooped in and got her third goal of the game to even the score at nine. Just over a minute after Craig's goal, off a successful clear, Nesselbush scored her first and only goal of the night to swing the lead back to the Wildcats, who looked close to dead in the water at the five-minute mark.

Up 10-9, Northwestern withstood a heavy barrage of offensive attacks from Notre Dame in the final minutes and needed a save from Bridget Bianco and game-clinching steal from Mupo in order to close out a much-needed win on the road.

Takeaway

Northwestern, just days after a rough loss, could have folded down a goal with under five minutes to play in this one. Instead, following a crucial timeout from its coach, the Wildcats came up big in a crucial moment and ended the game with two unanswered goals and some of the best defense they've played all season. They showed they could win without Lasota's usual top performance, which should be a nice confidence boost as the season winds down. Really impressive showing after a mostly lackluster second half.

What's Next

The Wildcats come back home this weekend to take on the No. 12 Penn State Nittany Lions in a key Big Ten game.