No. 2 Northwestern Tops Duke to Reach 8th Straight Final Four

EVANSTON, Ill. -- For the eighth consecutive season, Northwestern can call itself one of the final four teams standing in the NCAA Women's Lacrosse Tournament after knocking off sixth-ranked Duke, 12-7, in the national quarterfinals Saturday night at Lakeside Field.

The Wildcats used a familiar winning formula of relentless defense, timely goalkeeping and an ability to gain strength as the game wears on, at one point Saturday assembling a 9-1 scoring run over a 24-minute span to take control of the game.

Northwestern, which has now defeated Duke nine straight times dating to 2006, is set for a rematch of the last two NCAA championship games in its semifinal date with the University of Maryland Friday at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium in Stony Brook, N.Y. "We're very excited to make a trip to the Final Four, it never gets old and it's a very, very special thing," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.

Leading the charge on offense for the second straight game was junior Erin Fitzgerald and her four goals, while senior Shannon Smith notched a hat trick on her way to securing her place as Northwestern's all-time leading goal-scorer. Smith stands at 252 goals in her career, two better than the previous mark set by former NU great and two-time Tewaaraton Award winner Kristen Kjellman (2004-07).

"It's a huge honor, but I wouldn't be able to have any of those goals if it wasn't for my teammates," Smith said. "They're the ones cutting, keeping their defenders busy to allow me to take my defender one-on-one, or who are passing me the ball. I'm really excited to head back to a Final Four and a game against Maryland Friday night."

Amonte Hiller also reached a milestone on the evening, tying the record for most career coaching victories in the NCAA Tournament with 30, a mark she now shares with Princeton's Chris Sailer. She improved her career winning percentage in the postseason event to .938 (30-2), tops all-time among D-I women's lacrosse coaches.

Northwestern twice found itself in a two-goal deficit during the opening half, the first coming five minutes into the contest when Duke's Makenzie Hommel batted in a loose ball rebound after an initial save by NU netminder Brianne LoManto. But the 'Cats knotted the game at two after Fitzgerald scored on a restart and Smith came off the crease to bounce in her shot despite being fouled in the process at the 18:33 mark of the first half.

Duke went on a quick two-goal spurt after that, but junior and Tewaaraton Award finalist Taylor Thornton buried an 8-meter for her 30th goal of the season to cut NU's deficit in half. Fitzgerald then pulled Northwestern level with yet another goal off a restart just outside the 8-meter arc, this one coming with 10:49 left before halftime.

Ninety seconds later it was Amanda Macaluso creating her own shot, coming off the crease and pump-faking Duke goalie Mollie Mackler before dropping it in to give the Wildcats their first lead. Shortly after, Macaluso took on the role of distributor, feeding Fitzgerald in the fan to set up Fitzgerald's hat trick and cap a 4-0 NU run to end the opening 30 minutes.

The Wildcats controlled possession in the opening minutes of the second stanza only to misfire on two open looks at the cage, but -- after a point-blank save by LoManto returned possession to Northwestern -- Smith extended NU's lead to 7-4 with her record-setting score at the 22:56 mark of the half. Smith surveyed the right half of the fan and found an opening, shooting from distance and beating Mackler to stake her claim as the most prolific goal-scorer in NU women's lacrosse history.

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