April 13, 2012

Wildcats Dominate Second Half to Edge UNC 8-7

by Jonah Rosenblum | LaxMagazine.com | Live Blog Replay

North Carolina was whistled for 38 fouls in its one-goal loss at Northwestern. Six of the Wildcats' eight goals came off of free position opportunities.

© TD Paulius

EVANSTON, Ill. -- For a long time on Friday evening, it appeared that Northwestern's undefeated run through the 2012 season could come to a close, but the top-ranked Wildcats clamped down in the second half to secure an 8-7 victory over No. 3 North Carolina at Lakeside Field.

"You always show how tough you are when you're up against the ropes," junior defender Taylor Thornton said. "We've been able to come back in three games now so I would say we're doing a pretty good job."

Friday might as well have featured two separate games between Northwestern and North Carolina. In the first half, the Tar Heels (13-2, 5-0 ACC) aggressively seized the skies against the Wildcats (13-0, 3-0 ALC), lofting passes all over the field and breaking through early and often against a porous Northwestern defense.

"We just played the way we're capable of playing," Tar Heels coach Jenny Levy said. "We were patient with the ball. We moved the ball well. We played well as a team. We were composed and we did what we did."

After the Wildcats took an early 2-1 lead, the Tar Heels scored the next three, as Emily Garrity, Becky Lynch and Taylor George all found the back of the net. North Carolina's run started with a bold charge from Garrity, who swooped in from approximately 25 feet out and put it away.

On the other end, Northwestern midfielder Erin Fitzgerald appeared to have a goal on her own aggressive drive to the net, but she was whistled for a foul. The Tar Heels didn't waste time, beating the Wildcats down the field to take the lead. They would maintain that lead into the second half. North Carolina led 6-4 at the break.

In the second half, Northwestern clamped down on defense. While North Carolina had six goals on 11 shots in the first half, the Tar Heels mustered very few shots after the intermission, failing to make a dent on the scoreboard for the first 29:20 of the second half.

"Credit their defense but we just didn't have much composure," Levy said. "We were throwing the ball away. We threw the ball away a lot at the end of the first half. We had three possessions in a row that we just didn't complete, which wasn't good. In the second half, that continued to be an issue for us, where we just tried to make plays instead of letting the game come to us."

While North Carolina tried to force plays, Northwestern took over the draw. After dominating the draw, 8-3, in the first half, the Tar Heels let up in the second half, allowing the Wildcats to seize all five draw controls.

Meanwhile, with North Carolina having a hard time gaining possession or mustering any shots on net, Northwestern began to chip away. Thornton cashed in on two free-position opportunities to knot the score at six, and while attacker Shannon Smith was quiet for much of the game, she was there when it mattered most.

After scoring the game's first goal seven minutes in on a wraparound, Smith was held off the scoreboard — and largely held out of the action — for the next 43 minutes, until with the Cats leading by one, she was able to step out from behind the cage, receive a pass from Jessica Russo and fire it into the net. That would prove to be the game-winner for Northwestern.

"Any time that you're a top player, you're going to get a lot of attention," Wildcats coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "There's going to be a lot of attention on Shannon and she's going to create her opportunities, she's such a great player, and it's important for the other players to find the openings so it's a little easier on her as well."

Early on, with Smith silenced, the Cats relied on Fitzgerald, who scored two of their four first-half goals.

"She just plays with a lot of heart," Amonte Hiller said. "The play that she had throughout the game set us up for the position we were in."

Last season, after the Wildcats downed the Tar Heels, 7-6, in Chapel Hill, they saw their newfound rivals in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament, and again won by a single goal. After witnessing this year's edition of the Tar Heels, Wildcats goalie Brianne LoManto said she wouldn't be at all surprised to run into North Carolina again further down the road.

"Definitely not," LoManto said. "They're an unbelievable team. The coaching staff down to all throughout the team. Their offensive power is just ridiculous. They have a lot of talented girls. There is no way they're not going to be there towards the end and there's a very high possibility that we'll see them again."

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