Northwestern needed only about four minutes to wrestle Sunday’s NCAA second-round women’s lacrosse game away from No. 7 seed Towson.
In a game that was tied seven times, the Wildcats scored five straight goals early in the second half, building plenty of momentum for a 21-17 victory at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson.
In the first meeting between the programs, Northwestern’s attack dismantled the fifth best scoring defense in Division I. The Tigers (16-5) had given up just 8.8 goals per game and hadn’t allowed more than 17. Only Colonial Athletic Association rival James Madison managed more than 13.
The Wildcats (15-5), who will travel to No. 2 North Carolina for next week’s quarterfinals, scored 21 goals on 29 shots. Selena Lasota and Sheila Nesselbush combined for 20 of those shots and scored eight goals each.
In the breakaway run, Lasota scored three times and Nesselbush, twice. Nesselbush’s free-position shot with 26:29 left tied the game at 10. Lasota’s unassisted goal boosted the lead to 14-10 with 22:44 to go.
“That was the kicker,” Tigers coach Sonia LaMonica said. “That run was definitely tough and we never quite recovered from it. We definitely battled hard and were able to chip some goals in there as well. … We were really trying to remain composed offensively and not rush — plenty of time on the clock — but Northwestern just continued to give us problems.”
The Tigers, who took 35 shots, cut the lead to 15-13 on back-to-back goals from Emily Gillingham and Maddie Dickman with 17:40 left, but Lasota and Nesselbush answered with consecutive goals and Towson never again pulled closer than within three.
Lasota, who has 70 goals this season, said the Wildcats just needed to slow down and trust their offense in the second half after scoring the final two goals before the break to tie the score at 8.
“Towson’s an unbelievable team,” she said. “They’re very, very physical on D. They’re just strong girls. What we needed to do was just trust ourselves, move the ball, find the openings on the back side when they were in the zone.”
The Tigers had no answer for Lasota and Nesselbush. Lasota, who scored a tournament-record nine goals in the first-round 24-18 win over Richmond, is already just five short of the tournament record for goals — 22 set by Northwestern’s Katrina Dowd in four games in 2009.
Playing so physically, the Tigers fouled Lasota and Nesselbush in the arc four times each and they hit all eight free-position shots.
“They’re really good competitors. They’re really crafty and they’re really quick,” said Towson defender Olivia Conti, whose unit used several defenses throughout the game.
“It was tough, but I think that having Meg [Lynch] on No. 3 [Shelby Fredericks] and Tianna [Wallpher] on No. 2 [Lasota] — two of our strongest one-v-one defenders on them — really gave them an issue when we played them in man. It was harder for them to drive one-v-one.”
The Tigers, who have not gotten past the second round of the NCAA tournament in 10 appearances, had improved their draw-control game in recent weeks, bolstering one of their weaknesses. They came into the game with 229 while the Wildcats had won 312.
Rachel Mills won eight and Natalie Sulmonte won five, while Northwestern’s Fredericks won seven. Still, the Wildcats had only a 22-18 advantage at the end of the game, one of the main reasons the Tigers were still in the game in the second half.
Sulmonte also finshed with five goals and two assists, the most points ever by a Tiger in an NCAA tournament game.
While coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s seven-time national champion Wildcats advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2015, the Tigers will regroup for next season.
With just seven seniors on the roster, they look to build on a season in which they matched the program record for wins, earned the highest ranking in program history at No. 6 in the Inside Lacrosse media poll and were seeded higher than ever before in the NCAA tournament.
“We are going to keep the momentum going into next year,” said Conti, a sophomore. “We have a lot of talent returning, so we’re going to keep moving on.”
Goals: NW—Lasota 8, She.Nesselbush 8, Stein 2, Korn, McKone; T— Sulmonte 5, Gillingham 4, Montalbano 3, Thornton 3, Tellekamp, Dickman.Assists: NW—Fredericks 5, Beardsley 2; T—Sulmonte 2, Cha 2, Gillingham, Montalbano, Sachs, Dickman. Saves: NW—Krupnick 9; T—Keating 3; Florek. Half: Towson 8-7.