EVANSTON, Ill. -- Easter Sunday had a dramatic finish in store for everyone as the No. 6 Northwestern Wildcats (8-3) managed to hold off a late surge from the hard-driving No. 11 Penn Quakers (9-2) and win 9-8 thanks to a goal with 13 seconds left in overtime from junior Kaleigh Craig.
Northwestern used a dominant first half to go into the break ahead 6-3. NU actually could have stretched its lead even further, but was 0-4 on free position shots in the first half. The Wildcats did well on draw controls early though, winning six to Penn's four.
But it was a tale of two halves in the draw circle, as the Quakers turned the tables and won 10 of the 12 draw controls throughout the rest of the game.
"We started out strong, but we had a bunch of illegal calls, so that didn't help," coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "That shifted the momentum their way. There was three calls in a row off the draw that the ref just made a call and that didn't help us."
Amonte Hiller was not thrilled with the middle portion of this game, as Northwestern let leads of 5-1 and 6-2 slip away. Penn went on a 6-0 run to end the game, forcing overtime with a late goals from Tory Bensen. Nina Corcoran had the ball in transition with numbers, but wisely pulled back when less experienced players may have been inclined to rush into a shot, and let the Quakers set up their offense. This led to Corcoran, the leading assister on the team, finding a cutting Bensen for a nice finish to tie the game at eight.
"The wheels completely fell off the bus and we did not play well for a long, long stretch in the middle of the game," Amonte Hiller said. "We were able to pull it out, which is a good sign, but we can't play like that. We need to be better. I'm excited that we came out with the win, but we can't play like that any more."
But this experienced Northwestern team was able to dig deep and stem the shifting tide of momentum that was threatening to darken the beautiful Easter Sunday. Even with freshman Selena Lasota (relative to her usual out-of-this-world self) struggling, different players stepped up to lead the team during the trying moments of the game. It was a balanced attack, with five players on the scoresheet, led by sophomore Sheila Nesselbush with three. But no goal was bigger than the one late in overtime by Craig. She took a pass from Lasota and drove to the goal, finishing between Penn goalie Lucy Ferguson's legs.
"We were running a motion play we have, but it just worked out that I was open after [Lasota] tried to dodge," Craig said. "I was just aiming for net."
This game proved that the tough schedule the Wildcats have faced this year is paying off. While people might be surprised by the three losses already on the team's ledger, one look at the difficult slate and those losses look a little different.
Penn had only played one ranked team coming into today's contest, a 12-7 loss at No. 1 Maryland, and Northwestern was able to take the game to them early, going up 4-0. But when the Quakers started finding their grove and eventually forced overtime, the Wildcats were able to draw upon their experience in previous tough games against stronger opponents and come out with a win.
Highlights courtesy of the Big Ten Network/Northwestern Athletics
Today marked the last home game for the Wildcats until a conference game April 19 against Penn State. Between now and then, the team will go on the road for three consecutive games, with stops at Rutgers, at Stony Brook and at Notre Dame.