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    No. 1 Northwestern Outlasts No. 3 UNC, 8-7, to Remain Unbeaten

    Taylor Thornton scored two goals and also was part of a tremendous team defensive effort by the Wildcats, who held the Heels without a second-half goal until 40 seconds remained in the game.

    Taylor Thornton scored two goals and also was part of a tremendous team defensive effort by the Wildcats, who held the Heels without a second-half goal until 40 seconds remained in the game.

    April 13, 2012

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    WATCH: Game Highlights on Wildcats All Access!

    WATCH: K. Amonte Hiller Postgame Interview | T. Thornton Postgame Interview | B. LoManto Postgame Interview

    Site: Evanston, Ill. (Lakeside Field)
    Score: No. 1 Northwestern 8, No. 3 North Carolina 7
    Records: NU (13-0, 3-0 ALC), North Carolina (13-2, 5-0 ACC)
    Next NU Event: Sunday, April 15 vs. Johns Hopkins • Evanston, Ill. • Noon CT

    EVANSTON, Ill. -- After trailing 6-4 at halftime, top-ranked Northwestern held No. 3 North Carolina off the scoreboard for the first 29 minutes of the second half to regain the lead and eventually win an 8-7 outcome in front of 1,534 fans at Lakeside Field Friday night.

    Northwestern's turnaround on the scoreboard was aided immensely by its reversal of fortunes off the draw, where North Carolina won eight of 11 draw controls in the first half. But the Wildcats were a perfect 6-for-6 off the circle after halftime -- with sophomore Alyssa Leonard recording five for the game -- to slow down the Tar Heel attack.

    "We just try to focus in on our game plan and in the second half really focus on draw controls," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. "UNC is a great team and we're really happy to come out with a win. We asked (our defense) to step up in the second half and take away the things we needed to take away (from UNC). Alyssa Leonard did a great job directing (the draw) where she needed to and (then we were) just making sure we were helping her and if the ball went on the ground, coming up with it clean."

    Junior midfielder Taylor Thornton did it all for the Wildcats in the win, finishing with a career-best six ground balls to go along with her two free position goals, two caused turnovers and two draw controls. Thornton scored the first two goals for either team in the second half, drawing NU level with 23:49 to play.

    After a Lacey Vigmostad 8-meter goal with 18:33 left gave the Wildcats their first lead since it was 2-1, senior Shannon Smith scored what proved to be the game-winner with 9:41 remaining when Jessica Russo fed Smith off a free position restart.

    "You always show how tough you are when you're up against the ropes, and we've been able to come back in three games now," Thornton said. "It shows the resilience of this team. As we get closer to tournament time it just makes us that much more prepared."

    On the defensive end, senior goalkeeper Brianne LoManto recorded seven saves for the game, while sophomore Kerri Harrington made her first start of the season and held UNC senior Laura Zimmerman -- the Tar Heels' leading scorer on the year with 49 points -- without so much as a shot on the day.

    Defense was the story in the game's early stages, specifically the hot goaltending by the nation's top two netminders in terms of goals against average, LoManto and UNC's Lauren Maksym. Smith was the first attacker to break the ice, coming around the crease to score her 44th goal of the year with just under seven minutes gone by in the game.

    After North Carolina's Becky Lynch scored a similar goal two minutes later, Russo netted a free position goal only to have the visitors notch the next three goals in a span of 4:21. Junior Erin Fitzgerald stemmed the run when freshman Casey Bocklet spotted Fitzgerald open on the right of the cage for a goal that cut NU's deficit to 5-3.

    UNC's Kara Cannizzaro had the answer with a successful dodge less than a minute later, but Fitzgerald and UNC's Jessica Griffin traded 8-meter goals in a span of 21 seconds as Northwestern headed into halftime without the lead or a tie for just the second time this season.

    With Leonard finding her groove on the draw, Thornton asserted herself offensively, getting into the attack and converting two free position chances for her 18th and 19th goals of the season. Vigmostad followed suit five minutes later for the seventh goal of her senior campaign, and Northwestern went to work protecting its precarious lead.

    After Smith's goal from Russo gave NU a two-goal cushion, the Wildcats received two critical saves from LoManto, including a point-blank stoning of UNC's Abbey Friend. NU managed to successfully play keep-away for long stretches of the final 10 minutes, but a Wildcat turnover gave Lynch the chance to score with 40 seconds left to slice the lead to one.

    The ensuing draw control was a frantic one, but after nearly 20 seconds of fighting for the ball, Thornton won the draw on the sideline and helped Northwestern run out the clock to secure its fourth straight victory in the series with the Tar Heels.

    Harrington, who was in Amonte Hiller's starting lineup for the first time since her notable faceguard performance in the 2011 NCAA championship game vs. Maryland, also helped force Zimmerman into four turnovers in addition to keeping her without a point.

    A very even game statistically, Northwestern held a 19-16 edge in shots and an 11-10 advantage in ground balls, while both teams committed 12 turnovers on the night. The Tar Heels were assessed 38 fouls to NU's 18, however, and the Wildcats were able to convert five of their eight free position shots on the night, with a sixth goal coming off Russo's free position assist to Smith.

    Northwestern is back in action Sunday when it hosts No. 19 Johns Hopkins in a pivotal American Lacrosse Conference matchup. Game time is set for noon with the Big Ten Digital Network set to provide live online coverage of the event.


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