EVANSTON, Ill. - Both teams had shots hit the goal framing and shots cleared off the goal line by defenders until finally Northwestern scored off a set piece in the 88th minute to defeat Purdue women's soccer 1-0 in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Tournament on Sunday.
Michele Chernesky scored from the heart of the 18-yard box with two minutes and 56 remaining in the game. Marisa Viggiano served a free kick into the box and the ball caromed out of the scrum directly to Chernesky, who was standing unmarked about six yards to the right of the mass of players battling to win the service.
An NU defender standing near the right post kept a Sarah Griffith shot out of the net in the 40th minute. Griffith also hit a rocket off the crossbar in the 48th minute. Gabby LaMere prevented a Northwestern goal with a team save at the left post in the 19th minute. The Wildcats (11-6-2) also hit the right post off a corner kick scramble in the 26th minute.
The Boilermakers (10-7-2) were shut out for just the second time in 2017, which matches the 1998 and 2000 teams for the fewest clean sheets against in program history. Northwestern has not conceded a goal at home since Sept. 10 and has not given up a goal at home to a Big Ten Conference rival since Oct. 9, 2016 in a 2-1 win vs. Michigan.
As was the case in Purdue's 2-0 win vs. NU on Oct. 1 at Folk Field, the Wildcats came out inspired and dominated possession for the opening 10 minutes. Goalkeeper Erika Yohn made five of her seven saves in the first half as the Boilermakers withstood the early surge by the home side.
Purdue enjoyed an advantage in the run of play for much of the second half, compiling a 9-5 edge in the shot count while conceding just one corner kick opportunity. Northwestern created six first-half corners and nearly scored on a few of them. But just as the Boilermakers had done in the first half, NU did not fall behind. The blueprint proved successful when the late set piece produced the unmarked scoring opportunity the Wildcats were awaiting.
Sarah Clark, Kylie Hase, Vanessa Korolas, Maya Lambert and Mussallem went the distance among the Purdue field players. Lambert and Mussallem did not come off the field in any of the final 10 games of the season. Lambert led the team in minutes played (1,736 of the possible 1,756) as a freshman. Mussallem (1,727) and Hase (1,707) also logged over 1,700 minutes.
Brady Riley logged 19 minutes Sunday to lead the Boilermakers off the bench. She played in every game for the second year in a row.
Purdue entered the week ranked 59th in the RPI. That number does not figure to move very much following this week's win vs. Maryland (74 RPI) and loss at Northwestern (41 RPI). Coupled with their 10 victories and winning record in Big Ten play, the Boilermakers will receive some consideration for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Oct. 1 win vs. NU, draw at Penn State, and road wins at Louisville and Michigan will also help Purdue's case.
The 2017 campaign will stand as the program's finest season of the decade nonetheless. The Boilermakers won 10 games for the first time since 2009 and qualified for the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2008 (the event was not held in 2009 and 2010). If Sunday's loss was indeed the season finale, Purdue will have to bid adieu to an important six-player senior class of Maddy Olsen, Korolas, LaMere, Petrina, Williams and Yohn. They made a combined 261 starts during their careers, including 79 this fall.