Cortney Fortunato is third nationally in freshman scoring with 54 points this year.

No. 13/10 Women's Lacrosse Upsets No. 4 Northwestern, 9-8

March 6, 2014

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LAKE BARRINGTON, Ill. – Senior Lauren Sullivan came up with the biggest goal of her career with 1:16 left to go in regulation, breaking a tie and lifting the No. 13/10 Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team to a 9-8 upset win over No. 4 Northwestern on Wednesday night at the Lake Barrington Field House.

In a wild second half which saw four ties and four lead changes, the Fighting Irish (4-2) were able to hand the Wildcats (3-1) a rare home loss. Cortney Fortunato picked up her fourth hat trick in six games and Allie Murray turned back eight Wildcat shots as the Fighting Irish recorded the highest ranked road win in the program’s history. Notre Dame had previously beaten three teams ranked No. 7 in road contests.

“I’m thrilled about this win for the entire program,” Notre Dame head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “This win says so much about my team and their courage, playing until the last buzzer. What I’m most excited about is that my team has found their identity, meshing the veterans with the younger players. These are the outcomes that we hope to gain. The credit goes to the girls. They gave a true fighting Irish performance. They earned the victory, top to bottom.”

The Irish maintained an edge in possession time on the night, reflected in outshooting Northwestern 33-21 and topping the Wildcats in ground balls 21-15. Although the Wildcats controlled 11 draws to Notre Dame’s eight, that margin is vastly smaller than Northwestern typically enjoys and Notre Dame would control some of the most crucial draws when the game was on the line.

Notre Dame immediately announced its presence in Lake Barrington with authority, scoring just 11 seconds into the game. Captain Barbara Sullivan controlled the opening draw, rushed the ball up field and dished it off to Fortunato who immediately rifled home her team-leading 15th goal of the year to put the Irish on top 1-0. The significance of that crucial goal, blending Sullivan’s experience with Fortunato’s youth to ignite a landmark victory, was not lost on the freshman from Long Island afterwards.

“After Barbara got that draw, she came down and it was an easy transition opportunity,” Fortunato said. “It meant a lot coming out of the gate getting that goal. It was a confidence booster right from the start.”

Notre Dame would double its lead at 17:17 when Brie Custis completed a long run through the midfield by scoring a goal to put Notre Dame up 2-0. That lead would be halved 46 seconds later when Alyssa Leonard responded for Northwestern with a goal. The Irish regained the two-goal edge when Caitlin Gargan scored to give the Irish a 3-1 advantage that they would eventually take to the locker room at halftime. Gargan possessed the ball behind the net, rolled to the post, dove and beat the Wildcat goalie low.

Northwestern struck first in the second half when Kate Macdonald completed a run to the net with a goal making it a 3-2 game at 27:30. Being a man down after an Irish player picked up a yellow card did not deter the Irish as Kiera McMullan knifed through the Wildcats defense at 26:34 for her sixth goal of the year making the score 4-2 for Notre Dame.

Northwestern did get the goal back, however, while a man up, drawing back to within a goal at 4-3. Northwestern knotted the score at 4-4 with 21:52 remaining in the contest when Kaleigh Craig tallied on a free position shot. Nancy Dunbar gave Northwestern its first lead of the day moments later, converting on a free position shot.

Notre Dame tied the game again at 5-5 on a possession triggered by an intercepted pass by goalkeeper Allie Murray. The Irish pushed the ball up field before Heidi Annaheim found the back of the net. The Irish retook the lead when Fortunato scored on a free position at 15:41, making the score 6-5 in favor of Notre Dame. That lead held until 11:01 when Craig pulled up short on a free position chance and passed to Leonard for a Wildcat goal. Northwestern went back up 7-6 when Macdonald drove to the goal and scored, unassisted, with 8:51 remaining. Leonard picked up her third goal of the night, unassisted, to put Northwestern up by a pair of goals for the first time in the game at 8-6 with 6:57 left to play.

Notre Dame was able to maintain an extended possession after Custis caused a turnover near her own goal and, following a timeout, Rachel Sexton rolled to the cage for a score to make it an 8-7 game with 2:55 remaining. Molly Shawhan controlled the draw after that goal. Shawhan gave the ball to Sexton who found Fortunato whose shot found the back of the net, once again knoting the score, this time at 8-8 with 2:21 to play.

Smith controlled the ensuing draw and Notre Dame would go on to take a 9-8 lead at 1:16 when Sullivan scored on a feed from Pearsall. The Wildcats would have one last attempt though. Lauren Murray lined up a free position shot inside the final minute from the top of the 8-meter line but Allie Murray was up to the task, making the save to secure the Irish victory.

“It was the best feeling in the world,” said Sullivan of her game-winning goal against the regional rival that she had yet to defeat.

The Fighting Irish will be back in action on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. when they play host to Louisville at the Loftus Sports Center.