No. 1 Wildcats Use Strong Start to Ease by No. 6 Fighting Irish

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Facing the second of three straight top-10 opponents to close the season, No. 1 Northwestern ran its offense to near perfection in the first half and rode that hot start to an efficient 17-7 victory over No. 6 Notre Dame at Lakeside Field Wednesday night. Junior Erin Fitzgerald scored all five of her points (four goals, one assist) in the opening half and senior Shannon Smith matched that with two goals and three assists to drive NU's attack.

On the other end of the field, senior goalkeeper Brianne LoManto -- the nation's leader in goals against average - collected eight saves in 46-plus minutes of action to help NU hold the Irish to exactly half of its per-game scoring average coming into Wednesday night.

Junior Taylor Thornton notched three caused turnovers and a team-best five ground balls, while a solid team effort on draw controls -- with eight NU players winning at least one -- allowed the Wildcats to win a tough battle on the circle, 14-11. The outcome marked the 12th straight win for Northwestern against Notre Dame, a run that dates back to 2003.

"We had a great couple days of preparation and I thought we executed well tonight against a really talented opponent," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. "We have a huge game Saturday and anytime you get near the postseason you want to be at your sharpest, so we have to keep working our hardest to get there."

Notre Dame scored the first goal of the game on a solo effort by its leading goal-scorer, Lindsay Powell, three minutes into the contest but went 10 minutes before again finding the back of the net. In that span, Smith worked from behind the net on offense to feed Kara Mupo and Fitzgerald cutting to the cage for goals for the Wildcats' first two scores.

Sophomore Kelly Rich gave NU a 3-1 advantage at the 22:12 mark on a free position goal -- one of six on the day for the 'Cats -- and senior Jessica Russo made it 4-1 with a nice drive across the middle of the fan and a sidearm shot past Notre Dame goaltender Ellie Hilling.

Fitzgerald notched her second of the day off a free position attempt with 17:17 showing on the scoreboard, giving NU a 5-1 lead despite some stellar early goalkeeping by Hilling, who stopped seven shots in the first half alone.

After a Notre Dame tally, Rich scored on a spectacular effort in the fan, going up high to catch a pass by Fitzgerald and firing it past Hilling in one motion. Thornton followed that with an athletic coast-to-coast effort for her 21st goal of the year, and sophomore Kat DeRonda put away an ensuing 8-meter attempt to put the Wildcats comfortably ahead, 8-2.

The Wildcats weren't done, however, as Lacey Vigmostad scored despite absorbing a stick to the head that drew a yellow card for a Notre Dame defender, and 48 seconds later it was Fitzgerald cashing in on a free position shot to set the score at 10-3 NU. In the final four minutes before halftime, Smith was able to find Mupo for a goal for the second time in the half, and Fitzgerald again converted a free position attempt for her 43rd goal of the year and a 12-3 halftime score.

The top-ranked team in the land made sure to remove all doubt from the game early on in the second half as DeRonda notched her second goal on an 8-meter before Smith went to work in the crease and slipped one past Hilling for her first goal of the day and 51st of the season. Notre Dame pieced together three straight goals over a seven-minute span to cut its deficit to 14-6, but Smith got on the end of a pass by Casey Bocklet with 10:59 to play to restore a nine-goal advantage.

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2012-04-25



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