All that was missing were some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, 70-degree weather and a rousing chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
For the first time in Wrigley Field’s 100-year history, the Northwestern Wildcats lacrosse team played in the Friendly Confines, complete with the Northwestern fight song in the style of the Wrigley organ.
Coming into the game, Northwestern boasted a record of 9-5 (3-3) and USC was 8-8 (6-3). The ‘Cats had just dropped a crucial game against ALC rival Florida at the last second, an opponent they hope to face again in the conference tournament next week. This wasn’t the season the ‘Cats expected and neither was this game.
This game was more.
“Honestly, this was a really, really special experience for our players,” said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. “It was a great opportunity for them to play on this type of stage. We will remember this and we talked a lot about savoring the moment. I don’t want to leave.”
Though they got off to a slow start, the ‘Cats held off the surging USC Trojans for a 12-7 win, much needed to end the regular season. Redshirt junior Kara Mupo hit the grand slam for Northwestern, scoring four goals and recording one assist. Senior Alyssa Leonard had three goals of her own and eight of NU’s 15 draw controls.
It took a while for Northwestern to find their offensive rhythm, however. Of Northwestern’s first four goals, three were unassisted and the other one came off a pass on a free position opportunity. The ‘Cats went into the locker room with a 6-3 lead.
For Northwestern, that’s almost like losing.
“We talked about going out and playing like we needed goals,” Amonte Hiller said. “We created that sense of urgency towards the end of the game and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
Leonard took her coach’s advice to heart, scoring a behind-the-back goal just 54 seconds in to the second half.
“That showed that we really wanted to come out and set the tone,” said senior midfielder Kate Macdonald, who had one assist in tonight’s game. “We wanted to come out like we were playing from behind.”
The ‘Cats would go on to score five unanswered goals to start the second half. USC didn’t slip one past junior goalie Bridget Bianco until 12:12 minutes were left in the game. Bianco would finish with five saves by the final whistle. Northwestern’s staunch defense double-teamed the ball carrier almost every time the ball was passed, contributing to USC’s 22 total turnovers.
Northwestern emerged the winner of this non-conference matchup, but it didn’t really matter who its opponent was or who scored the most goals. It was about being connected to the history of Wrigley Field and the city of Chicago.
“This is something that I’ve never experienced before,” Bianco said. “I took it all in but at the same time I didn’t. It will definitely be one of the best moments coming out of Northwestern. It shows how much our team is growing and how much the sport is growing.”
And the Cubs got a great deal out of the game, too, even though they played in Milwaukee tonight. They earned 39 new fans.
“It’s only right for me. I make my living here in Chicago; I should be a Chicago sports fan,” Amonte Hiller said. “We feel very connected to that.”