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Northwestern lacrosse triumphs through rain, controversy in 10-9 OT win over Johns Hopkins

Northwestern lost, and then they didn’t, and then they won.

Northwestern lacrosse came up with a huge overtime win over Johns Hopkins on Thursday night. But there was controversy!

Let’s roll the critical tape first.

To clarify, after a back-and-forth game, Northwestern needed a goal to tie the game and force overtime. Sheila Nesselbush was fouled by JHU’s Haley Schweizer at around the 0.9-1.2 second mark, and the refs stopped the game.


There is, without doubt, 1.1 seconds on the clock here when the ref blows his whistle. In a basketball game, a replay official would award NU that much time. However, the clock operator, not reacting quite quickly enough, let it run down to 0.2 seconds. There’s no replay, so everyone is in total confusion.

Then, Nesselbush scores a difficult goal from long range. I suggest watching the video again. Did the ball cross the line in regulation? You can judge for yourself. It’s slightly confusing because the clock operator, likely confused because the clock had to be reset, does not start the clock immediately when play begins again. Also, I’m fairly sure the ball took less than 1.1 seconds to cross the line (which it must by NCAA rules) after Nesselbush scores. But after a huddle with the refs, Kelly Amonte Hiller Jedi mind tricked the refs into allowing the goal. She had a point, there was no replay, the referees were under pressure, and Northwestern got credit for the goal anyway.

Wow, I used this gif in a positive Northwestern sports context.

We’ll take it? Actually, hell yeah, we’ll absolutely take it! Northwestern Athletics deserves some good karma after the Gonzaga goaltending fiasco. And in the end, Northwestern played until the final whistle, even if that final whistle was after the clock expired and negotiated slightly ex post facto. There are no instant replays in women’s lacrosse and its up to the referee’s discretion. It wasn’t like Nesselbush did anything wrong.

Still, this goal did force overtime, and then Christina Esposito scored a game-winning golden goal after about a minute to send No. 19 Northwestern (6-5) to an improbable 10-9 OT win over Johns Hopkins (8-4).

How we got here is slightly less improbable, but still amazing. Northwestern jumped out to an early 3-0 lead through 10 minutes behind two early goals from Catie Ingrilli. Megan Kinna scored to make it 4-0, and the Wildcats were in business. Shannon Fitzgerald finally scored Johns Hopkins’ first goal of the game with 12:44 remaining in the first half, but a few minutes later Esposito scored her 28th goal of the season to make it 5-1.

Johns Hopkins had no answers for Northwestern in the first half. Northwestern won seven draw controls, forced 11 turnovers, and built up a 7-1 lead after scoring goals on back-to-back possessions. All was well.

The Blue Jays finally forced their way back into the game and made it 7-3 before the end of the half, but Northwestern was firmly in control. Then, as the weather got progressively worse, things went very badly for the Wildcats in the second half. While Northwestern blowing a 7-1 lead in this regular season lacrosse game should not distract you from the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, it did happen.

CeCe Finney scored Johns Hopkins’ fourth straight goal just 90 seconds into the second half. The lead was 7-4. A turnover from Nell Copeland turned into a fifth Blue Jays goal, making it 7-5 with 24 minutes remaining. Copeland made up for it by scoring her first goal of the season five minutes later, but Johns Hopkins’ defense continued to apply pressure.

The next 12 minutes saw four turnovers and three missed shots. Johns Hopkins’ offense surged forward and scored two more goals. Then, with six minutes left, JHU’s Shannon Fitzgerald completed her hat trick and tied the game at 8-8. It had been a stunning collapse for Northwestern, compounded by Fitzgerald scoring her fourth goal of the game through the driving rain with 3:19 remaining. Northwestern, after going up 7-1 to start the game, was now losing 9-8.

And then, with the game seemingly over, Johns Hopkins’ Haley Schweizer committed a foul with somewhere between 0.2-1.2 seconds remaining on the clock. Nesselbush had a chance to get a shot off before play ended, but there was surely no way that she could score with hardly any time left, right?

Wrong. Nesselbush stepped forward and rifled the ball into the goal. It looked like everyone played through the clock, including the goalkeeper, who dived in the opposite direction. But the refs blew their whistles and Johns Hopkins began to celebrate. They thought the game was over. The broadcast declared it over. We thought it was over:

And then, after a few minutes of yelling from Kelly Amonte Hiller, the game was no longer over. The goal stood.

Of course, one minute into overtime, Esposito scored her 29th goal of the season, and Northwestern’s third goal in 36 minutes. Northwestern celebrated, and Johns Hopkins probably went home furious. Um, I guess this is a makeup from the sports referee gods?

I’m not entirely sure Northwestern should feel great about this performance, but it can definitely feel relieved. Northwestern is better than its 6-5 record for sure. The team is 11th in RPI and lost some heartbreakers to USC and Colorado earlier this year. However, the season still hasn’t exactly been consistent. Sometimes, Northwestern looks like a top-five team. For other stretches, Northwestern looks beatable. The Wildcats haven’t played a complete game all year since Notre Dame, and it has cost them. But this time, they got some extra time, and it paid off.

Northwestern next plays Penn at home on April 2nd.