March 26, 2011

Fitzgerald, No. 2 Northwestern Draw Up Win Over Massachusetts

from press release

AMHERST, Mass. -- Thanks to an overwhelming 24-2 advantage in draw controls and a career-best five goals by sophomore Erin Fitzgerald, second-ranked Northwestern handed No. 20 Massachusetts its second defeat of the season, 17-7, Saturday night in Amherst. The 'Cats got off to a 5-0 early lead and never allowed the Minutewomen to cut the deficit below three in improving to 9-0.

"Alex (Frank) and Alyssa (Leonard) have been doing really well on the draw and our girls on the circle have been doing a great job the last two games," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. "When you dominate draw controls it makes it easy for you to create opportunities for yourself. Overall, we played decent, we still need to tighten up our turnovers because we had a few too many."

NU's ability to retain possession of the draw -- highlighted by Alyssa Leonard's seven and Taylor Thornton's five -- was never more apparent than in the second half Saturday, where the Wildcats were 13-for-13 off the restart.

Contributing to NU's seventh straight game with at least 16 goals were Amanda Macaluso (three goals) and Shannon Smith, who notched two goals and three assists to become the 12th player in Wildcats history to reach the 200 career points plateau.

Freshman Kelly Rich put Northwestern ahead 1-0 only 18 seconds into the contest with her 14th goal of the season, and NU was rolling after that. Fitzgerald notched her first of back-to-back goals off a free position attempt which Brianne LoManto followed up with a big save to end UMass' first possession. Only moments later, a cutting Alex Frank forced a Minutewoman timeout when she took a feed from Smith and finished to put the Wildcats in front, 4-0.

After Fitzgerald secured a hat trick with 20:06 still to go in the half, UMass made a few defensive stands and notched a free position goal of its own to get on the board and set the score at 5-1. But Fitzgerald was on the spot again, taking yet another timely feed from Smith and slotting it home -- despite being fouled in the process -- for her fourth of the evening.

With NU later leading 6-2, LoManto came up large on consecutive shot attempts by the Minutewomen, recording two straight saves on her way to six on the evening.

Sophomore Ali Cassera notched her eighth tally of the season following a restart feed by Rich behind the net, and Alyssa Leonard put Northwestern ahead by five once again, 8-3, with 5:33 to go. One final free position tally with 13 seconds to play in the first by Amanda Macaluso gave the Wildcats a six-goal lead at the break.

Hardly five minutes into the second stanza, Northwestern had extended its run to seven straight goals after Thornton, Macaluso and Fitzgerald -- again off the free position - subdued the hosts' hopes for a comeback.

UMass' Jesse O'Donnell scored her second free position goal of the night to make it 14-6, but it was all Northwestern from that point on as NU held onto possession for most of the next 14 minutes. After being held without a goal for the first 51 minutes, Smith broke into the scoring column with two straight tallies, both unassisted and off her own creative ability, to raise her team-best points total to 60.

Northwestern now carries its undefeated 9-0 mark into a tough three-game homestand that begins against third-ranked Duke on Saturday. Start time is scheduled for noon CT with the Big Ten Network carrying the live broadcast to a national audience.

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