May 22, 2009

Frank Clinches NU's Classic Semifinal Win

from press release

TOWSON, Md. -- In what will go down as arguably one of the classic games in NCAA tournament history, senior Meredith Frank (Westwood, Mass./Westwood) registered her third goal of the game with 1:31 remaining in the second overtime, propelling the top-ranked Wildcats to a nail-biting 13-12 victory over fourth-ranked Penn at Johnny Unitas Stadium.

"I really wanted to score that goal," Frank said. "We knew that either way we were going to score or they (Penn) were, and the team that didn't, their season would be done. I didn't want to be that team so I really wanted that goal."

"This game was definitely a thriller, and it feels incredible to come out with a win," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. "I am sure the fans that were here got their money's worth. I am so proud of our team and we are thrilled to represent Northwestern in the championship game Sunday."

But the Wildcats (22-0) might have been watching the championship back in Evanston had junior Katrina Dowd (Yorktown Heights, N.Y./Yorktown) not somehow found the back of the net with less than a second left in the first three-minute overtime period. Dowd picked up a loose ball, and, falling through the crease, launched a shot over her shoulder which somehow slid between the pipes. It was her fourth of the game as she set a new single-tournament record with her 18th goal of the championship.

"I couldn't see the cage," Dowd said of her game-tying goal. "I was on my knees and the ball was on the ground. I knew there wasn't much time left so I just swung at it and tapped it. Honestly, I had no idea where the ball was going when I shot it. I'm just happy it went into the cage."

It capped off what was a dizzying final six minutes of regulation, which saw Penn (15-3) rally from an 11-7 deficit by scoring four goals in a four-minute span to send the game into overtime - the first for the Wildcats since a 9-8 loss to North Carolina in the 2007 season opener.

NU won the draw in overtime and held the ball for the majority of the three-minute period. But after a big save from Penn goalkeeper Emily Szelest, the Quakers brought the ball downfield, resulting in an Erin Brennan goal to put Penn on top for the first time in the game with 11 seconds left.

Senior Hannah Nielsen (Adelaide, Australia/Brighton Secondary) won the ensuing draw and raced up the far sideline, firing a shot on goal which was saved by Szelest, but with the ball loose in front of the goal Dowd was able to net the game-tying tally.

In the early going, however, it looked like Northwestern might run away with the semifinal as junior Danielle Spencer (Rochester, N.Y./Brighton) beat Szelest just over a minute into the contest, giving the `Cats the early 1-0 lead. But NU wasn't done, as senior Hilary Bowen (Rochester, N.Y./Brighton) converted a feed Nielsen with 25:27 to go, giving NU a 2-0 lead. It marked the third-straight season Bowen has recorded at least 50 goals as she made her second consecutive start after tearing her ACL a month and a half ago.

The Wildcats then showed their quick-strike ability as Nielsen won the draw, fired a pass to Spencer at the restraining line and brought the ball into the attacking zone. Spencer then Dowd on the near side of the net who beat Szelest - all in the span of eight seconds.

After a Quaker goal got Penn on the board, Spencer responded with a rocket from the top of the crease, pushing the Wildcat advantage back to three a 4-1 with 16:53 remaining in the half.

But a pair of goals from the Quakers trimmed the lead to 4-3 at the 14:30 mark. Sophomore Samantha Santulli (Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central) converted a free position attempt at 6:04, giving the Wildcats a 5-3 edge, but a tally by Penn's Bethany Warren cut the Northwestern lead to 5-4 at intermission.

Frank registered the first goal of the second half with 25:24 remaining again pushing the Wildcat edge to two, only to see Penn's Ali DeLuca respond with a goal of her own at 23:38, making the score 6-5. But Frank would strike 16 seconds later, converting a free position attempt and giving the `Cats the 7-5 edge.

Guilia Giordano converted a free position attempt of her own, but Dowd answered, spinning around a handful of Quaker defenders and rocketing a shot past Szelest to make it 8-6 with 16:23 to play. After DeLuca pulled Penn to within one again at 8-7, Dowd weaved her way through traffic and netted a shot high, giving NU the 9-7 lead and tying the NCAA single-tournament mark with 17 goals.

Freshman Alexandra Frank (Westwood, Mass./Westwood) gave NU a little bit more breathing room, connecting on a free position goal with 11:57 remaining to give the `Cats a 10-7 lead. Goalkeeper Morgan Lathrop (Briarcliff, N.Y/The Hackley School) then made two key point-blank saves, keeping the NU cushion at three.

But that wasn't enough for Northwestern, as Spencer rocketed her second goal of the game into the netting with 9:14 to go and giving the Wildcats the 11-7 lead and seemingly putting the game away. Penn, however had different plans, breaking out four unanswered goals to send the game to overtime.

It marked the first sudden-victory overtime game in the NCAA championship round since Maryland defeated Georgetown 14-13 in 2001, and was reminiscent to the Wildcats' 11-10 overtime victory over Duke in the 2006 semifinals.

Dowd again came up huge for Northwestern, finishing with four goals on the night, upping her tournament total to 18 and surpassing senior Hilary Bowen's (Rochester, N.Y./Brighton) 17 as the single-tournament record. She also upped her career total to 128, which is tied with Sarah Albrecht for 10th-most all-time in program history.

Spencer also joined the ranks of the elite goal-scorers in NU history, as her three on the evening upped her career total to 130, which is ninth all-time. She was joined by Frank in the hat trick club, as both players added an assist to go along with their three goals.

Nielsen had another relatively quiet night by her standards, dishing out a pair of assists but winning five key draw controls for the `Cats, including a pair in the overtime period. For the game, NU out-drew Penn 15-13, including a 3-1 edge in overtime.

But Lathrop, who seems to have a knack for coming up big when her team needs her most, lived up to her reputation. She tied a season-best with 11 saves on the night, including a handful down the stretch to keep the Wildcats in the contest.

"It sure was one of the most exciting games I've ever played in," said Lathrop. "Any time you get into the postseason it's going to be an exciting environment. If you don't win, your season is over. But I think this game was extra special."

It was close, but Northwestern's streaks all remain alive. The Wildcats upped their winning streak to 28 games and have now won 18-straight NCAA tournament games, and are 20-1 all-time under Amonte Hiller. She joins an elite group, joining Chris Sailer, Cindy Timchal and Julie Meyers as the only coaches in NCAA history to notch 20 postseason victories. NU also improves to 7-2 all-time against Penn and is 3-0 against the Quakers in the tournament.

The Wildcats now set their sights on their fifth-straight national championship game, facing North Carolina at 4:30 Central on Sunday, May 24, after the Tar Heels held off second-seeded Maryland 8-7 in the second semifinal. Fans wanting to cheer on the `Cats are invited to attend a watch party at the Globe Café and Bar, located just north of the Hotel Orrington at 1710 Orrington in Evanston. Fans will be treated to great food and drink specials and can watch the `Cats on several flat-screen TVs.


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