March 27, 2013

Thornton, Northwestern Stop Buckeyes Upset Bid

from press release

EVANSTON, Ill. — No. 4 Northwestern and Ohio State staged a memorable American Lacrosse Conference battle Wednesday night in Evanston, with the Wildcats scoring four of the game's final five goals to overcome the visiting Buckeyes, 9-8. Taylor Thornton willed her team to victory with a career-best four-goal effort, while fellow seniors Erin Fitzgerald and Amanda Macaluso accounted for the game-tying and game-winning goals, respectively, late in the contest.

The Wildcats did not seize their first lead in the game until Macaluso put them in front for good with her goal at the 5:29 mark of the second half. It marked the second straight year in which Northwestern required a dramatic, come-from-behind effort to down Ohio State, after erasing a four-goal second-half deficit to win in overtime, 13-12, a year ago.

After Macaluso's go-ahead tally, Northwestern managed to drain precious time off the clock until the Buckeyes forced a turnover and called timeout with 1:07 to play and trailing by one. But OSU never had a chance to set up on offense as senior Ali Cassera applied pressure on the Buckeyes clear attempt and knocked the ball free with a stick check near midfield, icing the victory for the Wildcats (8-1).

Thornton, whose previous career-best of three goals had been accomplished twice, tallied three straight scores for NU in the second half as Ohio State worked to pull away from the defending champions.

Junior Alyssa Leonard contributed one goal and seven draw controls to the cause, helping the Wildcats win six of eight second-half draws after Ohio State won that battle in the opening stanza, 6-4.

A pair of up-and-coming sophomore goalkeepers made timely saves throughout the game, with both Bridget Bianco of Northwestern and Tori DeScenza of Ohio State finishing with eight saves on the evening.

Riding DeScenza's strong play early in the match, Ohio State jumped to a 2-0 lead over the first 10 minutes before Thornton dodged hard from the left wing to put the Wildcats on the board at the 18:45 mark. NU then tied it up when junior Christy Turner brought the ball across the restraining line in transition and fed Leonard, who quickly spun toward the cage and beat DeScenza for her 18th goal of the year.

Soon after, the Buckeyes regained the lead with a fortuitous goal by Jackie Cifarelli, who scored off a loose-ball scramble in front of the net at the 13:51 mark of the first half. It was the first goal in a 3-0 Ohio State run, leaving Northwestern behind by a 5-2 count with 12 minutes left before halftime.

NU cut into the lead when Cassera fed freshman Nancy Dunbar off an 8-meter restart at the 7:56 mark, and Dunbar later set up Macaluso from behind the net to set the score at 5-4 Ohio State entering intermission. It was Northwestern's second halftime deficit of the season.

Ohio State struck first out of halftime but Thornton had the answer less than a minute later when she scored off a free position to bring NU to within 6-5. It turned out to be the first of three consecutive goals Thornton would score for the Wildcats, the last of which came off a steller left-to-right dodge through the fan with 12:22 remaining, pulling Northwestern level (7-7) for the first time since it was 2-2.

The Buckeyes managed to take an 8-7 lead with just under eight minutes to play on a goal by Cara Facchina, but Fitzgerald broke through with her first goal of the game in a critical moment when she beat her defender and DeScenza with 6:29 to play. That set up Macaluso's game-winner exactly a minute later, which came when the Long Island native sped toward the cage from the right wing and aggressively finished with her left hand -- setting up the late-game dramatics and clinching caused turnover by Cassera.

Northwestern won 16 ground balls in the game to Ohio State's 13 and outshot the visitors, 24-19.

The game marked a return to Evanston for former Northwestern assistant coach and current OSU head coach Alexis Venechanos, as well as Buckeyes assistant Christy Finch ('08), a two-time IWLCA All-American defender and four-time national champion in her playing career at Northwestern.

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