May 17, 2014

Third Time's a Charm for Northwestern in OT Win Over Florida

by Eden Otero | | Twitter | May Madness Home

In-Game Blog Replay


GAINEVILLE, Fla. -- The third time's a charm.

After twice falling at home against Florida, Northwestern finally came out on top, earning an 12-11 victory over the Gators on a Kat DeRonda goal with just seconds remaining in overtime, earning a date with Maryland in next week's NCAA semifinals at Towson University.

Northwestern's perennial place in championship weekend festivities was in question for the entirety of Saturday's back-and-forth affair, never more than when it trailed 8-5 with just over 20 minutes to play.

But the Wildcats clawed back thanks to the scoring efforts of their senior class, including DeRonda's three goals in the final 17 minutes of regulation and overtime. DeRonda scored a free position goal with 4:51 left to pull Northwestern even at 11, and then came up with an unassisted tally with 16 seconds remaining in the first overtime period to lift NU to victory.

Fellow senior Alyssa Leonard also netted a hat trick and managed to give Florida fits in the draw circle throughout the day, winning seven for the day. Leonard's teammates also battled hard in and around the draw circle all afternoon, with Sheila Nesselbush (3), Kate Ivory (3) and Murray (2) all coming up with critical draw wins off loose balls.

Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said going into the elite eight match that the Wildcats' biggest focus was on stopping Florida's junior midfielder Shannon Gilroy and making sure the offense was able to dictate the speed of the game while making smart shots and accurate passes.

Gilroy has been an offensive powerhouse for Florida in the 2014 season, totaling 106 points for the season and 86 goals, leading the NCAA with the most goals and points for the season. She has been Florida's go-to on draw controls and led the team in caused turnovers for the season.

"We changed up a little bit defensively," Hiller said. "Offensively we felt like we wanted to be aggressive. We play our best when we're aggressive against them, when we were down in the first game and in the first half of the second game. We just wanted to kind of put that aggressiveness into 60 minutes of good lacrosse."

When Northwestern faced Gilroy's back-to-back goals at the beginning of the second half, Hiller said she knew it needed to be stopped immediately.

"We were just changing back and forth with different defensive looks," Hiller said. "Honestly, she's very difficult to stop. She's probably one of the most talented players I've seen and she's a great competitor. So we just wanted to play good team defense, see if we could stop her and make them move the ball a bit."

Leonard's ability to win the draw was pivotal in collapsing Florida's offensive opportunities and exhausting its defense late in the second half.

"We knew that the draw would be critical," Florida coach Amanda O'Leary said "...Alyssa (Leonard) is best in the country at that position and she showed it today."

The contest saw six ties and seven lead changes, but in the end it was Northwestern once again making it through to the final weekend, the 10th straight season they've made it but only the second time they have had to do so on the road in the quarterfinals.

Information from Northwestern's Athletic Department release on this game was included in this story.


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