Barbara Sullivan's prowess on draw controls helped her claim the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year honor.

Notre Dame Advances to ACC Semifinals; Beats No. 5 Virginia, 7-6

April 23, 2015

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The No. 11 Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team travelled to No. 5 Virginia’s Klöckner Stadium for an ACC championship quarterfinal on Thursday afternoon and, for the second time this month, came away with a victory as the Irish took down the Cavaliers, 7-6, to advance to the ACC semifinals.

Just 19 days after downing UVa, 14-4, the Irish earned their first-ever ACC postseason win and set up a rematch with No. 2 North Carolina at 1 p.m. on Friday. A late goal lifted the Tar Heels to a 9-8 win over the Irish back on March 29 at Arlotta Stadium during the regular season meeting between the sides.

The win is Notre Dame’s third this month against a top 10 opponent, establishing a school record for a single-season, let alone a single month. Additionally, all three of these top 10 wins have come on the road, downing No. 4 Virginia (14-4 on April 4), No. 7 Syracuse (12-11 in overtime on April 7) and No. 5 Virginia today, on their respective home fields. The Irish had beaten two top 10 teams in the same season four times previously, including the 2014 campaign (Northwestern and Duke).

In both of Notre Dame’s wins over Virginia this year, the Irish never trailed and Virginia needed an extended period just to get through the Irish defense and goaltender Liz O’Sullivan. In the first meeting, Notre Dame shutout the Cavaliers for 42:03 and today UVa needed 26:46 before finally cracking the scoreboard.

O’Sullivan had a career-high 12 saves today, edging out the 11 saves that he had previously made on two occasions, including the April 4 matchup with the Cavaliers.

Just an hour after being named to the Tewaaraton Trophy watch list as one of the top 25 players in the nation, Barbara Sullivan filled up her stat line robustly with five draw controls, four ground balls and three caused turnovers. Part of a dominating 12-3 draw control edge on the day for Notre Dame, Sullivan’s five give her 69 on the season, breaking her own school record of 67 set in 2013. The three caused turnovers give her 101 in her career, making her the sixth Notre Dame player to hit the century milestone.

Rachel Sexton and Heidi Annaheim each scored a pair of goals for the Irish. Sexton scored the final two goals of the game, officially putting the Irish over the top in their 7-6 victory. Freshman Abi Cullinan picked up her first career point, assisting on the Annaheim goal which broke a 3-3 tie to make it 4-3 for the Irish with 15:06 to play – a lead Notre Dame did not relinquish.

“We were thrilled with the victory,” head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “It’s our program’s first ACC tournament win, which is huge. We knew it was going to be a battle today and that it would be ugly. The last outing was the tale of a perfect Irish game and a not so perfect Virginia game, and we knew we weren’t going to see that again. We knew it was going to be a great matchup and it came down to two outstanding defenses. I have to credit my defense and goalkeeper. Liz O’Sullivan was amazing. Twelve stops, and when we needed them the most. I couldn’t be more pleased with that.”

By winning 7-6, it marks the 10th time this year that Notre Dame has held its opponent to single digits, the most since recording 12 such games in 2004. It also ties for the second-lowest scoring win for Notre Dame it its women’s lacrosse history, eclipsed only by a 6-5 victory over No. 7 Syracuse on April 11, 2010.

The notion that today’s game would be low scoring arrived quickly as the Irish played the game at a methodical pace as they enjoyed ample possession time. The first half was almost half over before either team scored. Brie Custis tallied on a free position to put Notre Dame up, 1-0, at the 16:51 mark. Just that one lonely goal hung on the scoreboard until there was 3:49 left in the first half and Annaheim scored for Notre Dame set up by Cortney Fortunato. Virginia got goals from Kelly Boyd and Courtney Swan before intermission to make it a 2-2 game at halftime.

The teams traded goals to open the second half. Fortuato controlled the second half’s opening day, one of three on the day for her, and about a minute later, Alex Dalton scored from Caitlin Gargan for Notre Dame at 28:32. May Alati struck on a free position shot for the Cavaliers at 25:35 to make it 3-3. Annaheim’s goal from Cullinan and a free position score from Stephanie Toy put Notre Dame on top 5-3 with less than 10 minutes to play.

Boyd got the Cavaliers back to within a single goal at 5-4 with 8:11 to play but Rachel Sexton helped the Irish extend their lead to a game-high three goals at 7-4. The first goal came with 7:01 showing on the clock as Grace Muller passed out of a free position attempt to Sexton for her 30th goal of the year. Just under two minutes later, Sexton scored again, this time on a free position shot.

Virginia did not bow out quietly on its home field, scoring goals with 2:47 and 20 seconds remaining to cut its deficit to 7-6. However, Annaheim controlled the final draw and the Irish advanced on in the ACC championship.