Northwestern picked a bad time to visit Ohio State: finals week. But the visitors made the most of their short time on campus, winning 22-13 behind a career high 8 goals from Selena Lasota and a big effort from Kaleigh Craig in her regular season finale to get back to .500 on the season.
A win here ensured the team only has to win one game in next week's Big Ten tournament to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament, where teams must be at least .500 to qualify. With the the No. 1 strength of schedule on the year, the Wildcats are all but guaranteed a bid, should the team be eligible.
The loss marks Ohio State's fourth in a row.
In her last regular season game as a Wildcat, Craig made it count. With the score tied midway through the first half, she scored back-to-back goals in 21 seconds to stake Northwestern to a two-goal lead it wouldn't relinquish for the rest of the half.
Fellow senior Spring Sanders also had an inspired game. Her defense was energetic throughout the game and she forced a number of turnovers. Although the Buckeye's leading scorer, senior Cian Dabrowski, finished with four goals on the afternoon, she was going to get hers, anyway.
At the very end of the half, Craig broke the Buckeyes backs' again when, out of a free position, she found freshman Leighton Yenor right in front of the goal who put it away, giving the Wildcats firm control of the game. Yenor, a substitute, finished with a hat trick.
Craig opened the second half scoring, as well, completing her hat trick less than 30 seconds after the break. She would finish with four on the day. Unfortunately, after that things got a bit dicey for the Wildcat defense, which gave up four unanswered to allow the Buckeyes to tie the game.
Luckily, Lasota had had enough by that point. After notching a first half hat trick, she went back-to-back, barely 90 seconds apart to open up a lead for the visitors. After that, fellow sophomore Shannon Nesselbush took things into her own hands, getting the ball at midfield and knifing through the defense before finishing over the keeper. It was Nesselbush's first career goal on her first career shot.
That goal more or less ended things, but Lasota notched a second half hat trick for good measure, before tacking on her seventh of the game 15 seconds later, a career high. She also added an assist to help put the Wildcats over the 20-goal mark before scoring her eighth with about five minutes to play.
Junior Christina Esposito was part of a dynamic effort on the offensive end. The ball movement and player movement Friday afternoon was the best the team has demonstrated in games. Esposito had a hat trick of assists in the first half and finished with four on the day. Good passing and pick plays allowed the Wildcats open shots all game, which they converted more often than not.
Sophomore Shelby Fredericks, a draw control specialist, finished with a hat trick as well.
Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller utilized her bench well, rotating players in more frequently than in the past. Freshman Claire Quinn earned her first career start in this pivotal regular season finale and played well. Juniors Danita Stroup and Catie Ingrilli both contributed off the bench, with Stroup scoring two goals to boot.
Northwestern hosts the Big Ten tournament next week in Evanston at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium.