No. 4 Northwestern Comes Back, Slips by No. 5 Syracuse

EVANSTON, Ill. -- A rematch of an exciting 2012 NCAA women's lacrosse national championship game lived up to its billing Saturday afternoon in Evanston as No. 4 Northwestern edged fifth-ranked Syracuse in an entertaining affair, 13-12.

Just as they did in a one-goal win over Ohio State Wednesday, the Wildcats operated without a lead for the majority of the game before an Alyssa Leonard goal with 6:09 to play put NU over the top.

NU improved to 9-1 on the year with the victory and extended its winning streak in the all-time series with the Orange to 11 in a row. Northwestern trailed by a slim 7-5 margin at halftime despite Syracuse's overwhelming 11-2 edge on draw controls in the opening 30 minutes. Leonard and freshman Lauren Murray found more success in the circle in the second half, with each team claiming seven draws in the final stanza.

Senior Ali Cassera fueled the Wildcats attack, scoring three times in the second half on her way to a career-best five goals for the game. Fellow seniorErin Fitzgerald netted a hat trick and one assist, while Amanda Macalusoscored twice and dished out the assist on Leonard's game-winning tally.

Defensively, junior Kerri Harrington one-upped her own tremendous face-guarding effort against dynamic SU attacker Michelle Tumolo, the returning Tewaaraton Award finalist whom Harrington held without a point or shot attempt Saturday after keeping her to just one goal in the 2012 national title game (an 8-6 Northwestern win).

Behind Harrington, sophomore goalkeeper Bridget Bianco recorded her second straight eight-save performance, notching five in the first half to keep her team close after the high-powered Orange attack opened up an early 4-1 lead.

Northwestern bounced back from that first-half deficit thanks to a 4-0 run kickstarted by Cassera's first goal of the afternoon, which was followed 90 seconds later by a Macaluso tally at the 17:49 mark. A pair of freshmen connected for NU's next goal as Nancy Dunbar found a cutting Lauren Murray from behind the cage, the first of two Dunbar helpers on the afternoon.

The Wildcats held a 5-4 lead for a span of more than six minutes after Cassera's second score of the day, but Syracuse reclaimed all of the momentum entering halftime with three goals in the final 3:27. Kailah Kempney scored for SU after what appeared to be an accidental whistle during a loose ball in the fan, and Alyssa Murray struck twice after that to set the count at 7-5 at the break.

Goals by Cassera and Macaluso erased the halftime deficit, but the Wildcats were unable to claim a lead until piecing together their 5-2 lead to end the game. The scoring came fast and furious midway through the second half, with both teams combining to score four times in 59 seconds ending when SU's Kayla Treanor converted an 8-meter with 11:37 to play.

Senior Taylor Thornton, coming off a career-best four-goal effort on Wednesday, pulled the Wildcats even at 12 one minute later with a hard-earned free position goal before Macaluso found Leonard for a quick-stick goal that proved to be the game-winner.

Northwestern took time off the clock down the stretch and, when Syracuse regained possession with just over three minutes remaining off a missed shot by Fitzgerald, it was Fitzgerald who tracked down the ball and caused the game-clinching turnover on SU's ensuing clear attempt.

A crowd of 1,262 watch Northwestern improve its home record since the start of the 2005 season to a remarkable 86-2.

Northwestern's four-game homestand concludes Friday evening when the Wildcats host a pivotal American Lacrosse Conference match-up with No. 10 Penn State at Lakeside Field. Opening draw is slated for 7:00 p.m. CT.

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