No. 4 Northwestern's Defense Holds No. 9 Duke to Four Goals

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Rare is the occasion when it seems a team can do no wrong against a challenging opponent, but No. 4 Northwestern enjoyed just that kind of evening in coasting past ninth-ranked Duke, 12-4, Friday at Lakeside Field in Evanston.

The 'Cats sped to a 7-0 halftime lead behind brilliant goalkeeping by Bridget Bianco and four first-half scores by senior Erin Fitzgerald -- who finished with five on the evening -- en route to a key nonconference victory.

Fitzgerald was one of two Wildcats to reach a significant milestone on the evening, with her five points giving her exactly 200 for her career. The senior from Mt. Sinai, N.Y., becomes the 13th player in program history to reach the 200-career point plateau, in the process passing NU great Hannah Nielsen for ninth all-time with 175 career goals.

Adding to the festivities was the record-setting achievement of juniorAlyssa Leonard, who with five draw controls surpassed Kristen Kjellman (2004-07) for the No. 1 spot on the Northwestern career draw controls record list with 269. NU's top draw specialist now has 88 draw controls this season, placing her within reach of the Wildcats single-season record of 110 set in 2010 by Danielle Spencer.

Senior attacker Beatrice Conley chipped in with her first career two-goal game in the win.

With the victory, Northwestern won both its 10th consecutive game this season as well as its 10th in a row against the Blue Devils, who fell to 9-4 on the year with the loss.

As has been the trend over the latter half of its current 10-game winning streak, Northwestern set the tone Friday night on the defensive end of the field when senior Taylor Thornton drew a charge on Duke's first offensive possession of the evening. The play allowed the Wildcats to set up shop at the other end of the field, where a patient offensive set culminated in a spinning shot and goal by Ali Cassera with just under four minutes gone by for the game's first goal.

Northwestern remained deliberate on attack on its next possession, and freshman Kaleigh Craig finished the play by running by her defender and easily beating Duke goalkeeper Kelsey Duryea, who entered the night ranked No. 1 in the nation in save percentage (.546) but struggled against the Wildcats.

Bianco, meanwhile, denied Duke's first good look at cage from point blank range, returning the ball to the NU attack where Fitzgerald got on the board with a rocket past Duryea, Fitzgerald's 40th goal of the season. It proved to be the first of four straight goals Fitzgerald would score, the second of which extended Northwestern's lead to 4-0 and forced a Blue Devils timeout.

With the Wildcats in front 5-0 and under 10 minutes remaining before half, Bianco denied a free position shot by Duke's Molly Quirke to keep the visitors out of the scoring column, and Fitzgerald converted an 8-meter opportunity less than two minutes later for her fourth of the first half. NU took advantage on the draw control (11-6) and methodically worked the clock down late in the opening stanza until Gabriella Flibotte earned a free position shot with nine seconds left and cashed in to give Northwestern a commanding 7-0 lead at the intermission.

Duke finally put a crooked number on the scoreboard with just under four minutes gone by in the second half on a goal by leading scorer Makenzie Hommel. That's when Conley had the answer, however, picking up a loose ball in front of the cage and depositing it past Duryea and, only 26 seconds later, scoring again despite absorbing a substantial hit from a Duke defender in the process.

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