By working its way to a 5-0 lead and holding its opponent without a shot for the first 17 minutes of the game, No. 2 Northwestern set the tone for what turned into a convincing 15-7 win over No. 7 Penn State in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championship in front of over 1,100 fans Saturday night in Evanston.
Northwestern, which led 13-3 at the half and by as many as 12 in the second half, earned a spot in the tournament’s national semifinals for a remarkable ninth consecutive season, setting the stage for a rematch with one of the teams responsible for NU’s two losses in 2013 — third-ranked North Carolina.
“I think down the stretch the girls have been really focused, and it takes a lot of focus to be able to put a team away,” head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said after winning her 34th career NCAA Tournament game. “You have them on the ropes, you got to get that knockout punch and I think earlier in the year we lacked the focus to be able to get over the hump. Every single player since our loss to Florida has been really committed, and that’s the difference, that level of focus.”
The ‘Cats improved to 19-0 all-time in NCAA Tournament home games under Amonte Hiller and extended their current winning streak in tournament play to 10 in a row dating back to 2011.
“I think people think it’s automatic that we’re going to go to the (semifinals), but it’s very hard to get there,” Amonte Hiller said. “With the expansion of the (NCAA Women’s Lacrosse) Tournament, there were so many great teams in the Tournament and to be one of those four teams left is an honor.”
Northwestern and Penn State were meeting for an unprecedented third time this season, but Saturday’s quarterfinal affair much more closely resembled the teams’ regular-season outcome than their American Lacrosse Conference Tournament tilt that required overtime to decide a winner. The Nittany Lions, who managed only three goals and 10 shots against the Wildcats back on April 5, were limited to three first-half goals and 16 total shots for the evening on Saturday.