Feb. 13, 2016

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By Chris Masters

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Playing in a facility that features one of the fastest indoor tracks in the nation, the No. 7 University of Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team showed it has a pretty strong finishing kick of its own.

The Fighting Irish scored eight unanswered goals in less than 13 minutes midway through the second half to sprint past 15th-ranked Stanford on Saturday afternoon in Notre Dame’s home opener at the Loftus Sports Center.

Junior attacker Cortney Fortunato (Northport, N.Y./Northport), junior midfielder Alex Dalton (Needham, Mass./Notre Dame Academy) and senior attacker Rachel Sexton (Sudbury, Mass./Lincoln-Sudbury Regional) each scored two goals during the game-changing second-half run, while junior attacker Grace Muller (Ruxton, Md./McDonogh School) put the Fighting Irish in front for good on her goal with 13:11 remaining.

“Obviously they jumped out ahead, but ultimately I think that the final outcome speaks to the maturity level of our team, the will to win and continuously adjust and get back to the way we play,” said Notre Dame head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “I couldn’t more excited about seeing the maturity of our team, our willingness to play one play at a time, and I think that it started with our defense. Once they made some adjustments and got Stanford off the eight-meter (arc), we started to fuel some of those offensive opportunities, which helped us to start winning some of the draws and go on that 8-0 run.”

Fortunato finished with a team-high four goals for Notre Dame (2-0), her second consecutive four-goal outing, with the Fighting Irish improving to 17-4 all-time when she scores a hat trick.

Dalton added three tallies and Sexton scored twice for Notre Dame, helping support a solid Fighting Irish defensive effort, led by freshman goalkeeper Samantha Giacolone (Manorville, N.Y./Eastville South Manor), who made four saves in her home debut and graduate student defender/captain Barbara Sullivan (Garden City, N.Y./Garden City), who tied a school record with seven caused turnovers, matching Shaylyn Blaney’s mark on April 17, 2010, against Cincinnati.

“That’s Barbara doing what Barbara does,” Halfpenny said. “She’s a unique and special athlete and she’s a winner. I know that sounds clichéd, but the reality is, Barbara is willing to do whatever it takes to put her team on her back, to do the little things. She fuels and motivates everybody to do their jobs, and I think the way she battled, again, it’s just a signature of who she is and obviously, it’s synonymous with our brand. We fight, we’re aggressive, we’re fast, we’re passionate — Barbara was so passionate today and we’re just so thrilled she got her fifth year here.”

Kelsey Murray scored a game-high five goals for the visiting Cardinal (0-1).

Notre Dame finished with a massive 37-15 edge in total shots, including a 17-5 edge in the first period. In fact, although Stanford scored on four of its five shots in the opening half, all four goals came via free-position shots.

Murray netted the game’s opening tally on a free-position try just 1:59 into the first half. It took the Fighting Irish a bit more than nine minutes to answer Murray’s initial score, but Fortunato drew the hosts level with her first goal of the afternoon.

Murray then sparked a three-goal Stanford outburst (all via free-position shots) in a 90-second span midway through the first half, scoring a man-up goal at the 16:28 mark. Mackenzie Tesei did likewise, also with the player advantage, at 15:20, and Lucy Dikeou capped the flurry by scoring from the arc 22 seconds later, giving the Cardinal a 4-1 lead.

Notre Dame had bent, but it did not break, and the Fighting Irish delivered a preview of the offensive rush to come in the second half, as freshman attacker Nikki Ortega (Centereach, N.Y./Centereach) and senior attacker Kiera McMullan (West Nyack, N.Y./Pearl River) scored goals in the final 3:30 of the opening period to bring Notre Dame within 4-3 at halftime.

Much like the first half, it took the Fighting Irish a bit of time to get its offense in gear, while Stanford rebuilt its three-goal edge on tallies by Murray and Dikeou in the opening 10 minutes.

Yet, when Sexton converted a pass from Ortega at the 19:18 mark, the Notre Dame gold rush was on. Five of the eight Fighting Irish goals in their decisive charge came during the run of play, with the remaining three coming on free-position shots (two by Fortunato).

When the dust had settled, Notre Dame had an 11-6 lead and just 6:23 remaining in the game. The teams then traded scores the rest of the way, with Murray adding a pair of consolation goals in the waning moments after being held largely in check during the second half.

Notre Dame will have eight days off before continuing its four-game homestand at noon (ET) Feb. 21, opening its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule by welcoming No. 9 Boston College to Arlotta Stadium. The game will be televised live on the official Fighting Irish athletics multimedia platform, WatchND (watchnd.tv) and the WatchND app.

— ND —

Chris Masters, associate athletics communications director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2001 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women’s basketball and women’s golf programs. A native of San Francisco, California, Masters is a 1996 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, earned his master’s degree from Kansas State University in 1998, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).