Northwestern women's lacrosse: Cats beat down Penn State, head to Final Four

Alyssa Leonard had four goals against Penn State - Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Northwestern scored the first five goals of the game en route to a dominating victory over Penn State. With the win, NU heads to the Final Four for a ninth straight year.

Well, that was easy.

Northwestern had their way with Penn State on Saturday, scoring early and often in a 15-7 win over the Nittany Lions at Lakeside Field. When it was all said and done, 32 of the 37 players on Northwestern's roster got a chance to play in the game. Northwestern women's lacrosse is one of the only teams that can do that in an NCAA quarterfinal.

Kelly Amonte Hiller's team has won primarily with defense this year, giving up an average of under eight goals a game. But on Saturday, it was the offense that shined under the lights in Evanston. NU scored five goals before Penn State even attempted a shot and it took the Nittany Lions almost 18 minutes to get on the board. The 'Cats only got better after Penn State's Jenna Mosketti scored with 12:32 left in the first half. They scored the next six goals to take an 11-1 lead. The half ended with NU in front 13-3. As a team, NU averages 12.71 goals a game so that was a pretty good half of lacrosse for the 'Cats.

Nine different players scored for Northwestern. Alyssa Leonard led the way with four goals, and it appears my concern about her leaving last week's game was completely unfounded. She scored all four of her goals in the final 10:42 of the first half, while Penn State scored three goals as a team in the entire first period. As commenter NU'69 pointed out, she might have been a bit peeved that she was left off all three IWLCA All-America teams. Erin Fitzgerald had three goals to give her 59 on the season. Taylor Thornton filled up the stat sheet as usual with a goal, an assist, five ground balls and five draw controls.

As you would expect, all of the statistics were heavily in Northwestern's favor. They outshot Penn State 20-4 in the first half and won the draw control battle for the game 17-7. The 'Cats had 77 percent of possession in this one. I'm not sure the word domination does their performance justice. #BEATEMDOWN might be the only description that captures just how good NU was Saturday night.

The only reason the final score looks somewhat reasonable is that Kelly Amonte Hiller unloaded her team's sizable bench in the second half. It's not often that backups get to play in an NCAA quarterfinal. Penn State actually outscored NU 4-2 in the second half and ended the game on a 4-0 run. The last three goals were allowed by reserve goalie Brooke Jones, who played the final 6:43 in net for Northwestern.

With the win, Northwestern heads to their ninth straight Final Four in Philadelphia next weekend. They'll play North Carolina on Friday, while Syracuse and Maryland square off in the other national semifinal. Those four teams were the top four seeds in the tournament. Luckily for NU, Syracuse knocked off a Florida team that has beaten NU three times in the last two years. There have been five really good teams in women's lacrosse this year, so one was always going to miss out on the Final Four.

Friday's match-up against North Carolina will be difficult for NU. The 'Cats lost to the Tar Heels earlier this season in Chapel Hill. NU already avenged one of their two losses this year with an 8-3 victory over Florida in the ALC Tournament Finals. They'll try to avenge their other loss on Friday with a spot in the NCAA final on the line.

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