April 26, 2014

Northwestern Beats USC Under the Lights at Wrigley

from press release

CHICAGO -- Northwestern Lacrosse may be without an Illinois native on its 35-player roster, but it's safe to say the 2014 Wildcats now have what must feel like a lifelong connection with venerable Wrigley Field.

From walking the clubhouse tunnel to learning the quirks in its landscape and way it reflects a setting sun, the Wildcats were able to experience the Friendly Confines Saturday night in a way that few do, bringing their own sport and style to the 100-year-old landmark in the process.

Kelly Amonte Hiller and her eighth-ranked Northwestern squad defeated a game USC Trojans opponent, 12-7, in the stadium's first-ever women's collegiate sporting event and the first instance of lacrosse at Wrigley Field in more than 90 years. A crowd of 5,145 filled the stands to brave a whipping wind off Lake Michigan and experience a new chapter in the home of the Chicago Cubs.

Junior Kara Mupo registered four goals and an assist to lead Northwestern while senior Alyssa Leonard netted a hat trick, dazzling the NU fans in attendance with an over-the-shoulder catch-and-shoot goal to open the second-half scoring. Leonard also collected eight draw controls to raise her all-time NCAA-leading career total to 422.

Kat DeRonda sparked the attack as well, registering two goals and two assists to improve her team-leading points total this season to 39.

After back-to-back days of calling the historic venue their home, the 'Cats were able to reflect on the rare opportunity.

"We talked a lot this week about savoring the moment and I just said it walking out of here, I really don't want to leave," Amonte Hiller said. "It was a lot of fun and to have it in front of our home crowd is really special."

"It was awesome, I definitely took it all in, but at the same time I didn't just so I could keep focus," said goalkeeper and Tewaaraton Award nominee Bridget Bianco, who made five saves in the game. "It's something special and I think it shows how much our program is growing and the game of lacrosse is growing and the fans that are there to support."

The second-year Trojans, coached by Northwestern products Lindsey Munday ('06) and Hilary Bowen ('09), fell behind by an 11-3 score midway through the second half but responded admirably with three straight goals to narrow its deficit. USC is now 8-8 on the year and will continue its road trip at Marquette on Sunday afternoon.

It was Mupo who had the honor of scoring the first lacrosse goal at Wrigley Field since an amateur game of lacrosse was hosted there in 1920, doing so off a free position feed from Kate Macdonald just over two and a half minutes into the contest. After USC's Caroline deLyra -- the sister of 2013 NU Lacrosse alum Alexa deLyra -- scored one minute later, NU's Kelly Rich tallied an unassisted goal at the 24:28 mark to make it a 2-1 ballgame.

Off the ensuing draw control, Leonard snared the loose ball and bolted toward right field at Wrigley, where she beat a defender and fired just under the crossbar for her first of three goals on the night. She would score the next NU goal off her own caused turnover and ground ball on the ride to give Northwestern a 4-1 advantage nearly halfway through the first half.

Mupo recorded the last two Northwestern goals of the opening period, netting the second with 5:28 to play with a low shot off a feed by junior Jess Carroll. That goal was the start of a 6-0 Wildcats run that saw their lead grow from 5-3 to 11-3.

In the first minute of the second half, it was Leonard who channeled a shortstop making a no-look flip on a double-play ball when she took a feed near the crease from DeRonda and deftly fired over her shoulder to beat USC Liz Sheaffer for her 28th goal of the season.

After a Carroll score at the 22:40 mark, DeRonda scored two straight for Northwestern, and Mupo punctuated the run with an 8-meter goal with 13:41 to play that made it 11-3.

Munday's Trojans did not quit, however, using good pressure on the ride and timely shooting to score three goals in less than three minutes to cut into the Wildcats lead. But Northwestern kept them at bay from that point forward and scored their final goal when senior Christy Turner cut to open pasture in front of the cage and accepted a feed from Kelly Rich, scoring with a right-handed shot while getting fouled in the process. It was Turner's ninth goal of her senior campaign.

Defensively, senior Kerri Harrington set a career high in her final regular-season contest with three caused turnovers, part of 15 Northwestern notched in the game.

With this historic evening in the books, it's now on to the postseason for the Wildcats, who this week have the privilege of hosting the final American Lacrosse Conference Tournament in league history. Northwestern is slotted as the No. 3 seed and will begin play as part of a triple-header at Lakeside Field Thursday (May 1), facing Vanderbilt for the right to advance to the semifinals on Friday. All tickets to the 2014 ALC Tournament will be sold as day passes at the entrance to Lakeside Field.

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