May 16, 2015

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NCAA Tournament Central

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DENVER, Colo. —- Notre Dame is headed back to NCAA Championship Weekend for the fifth time in school history and for the second straight season, the program’s first back-to-back appearances at college lacrosse’s showcase postseason weekend.

The top-seeded Fighting Irish men’s lacrosse team secured the berth with a 14-10 quarterfinal victory over Albany on Saturday afternoon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colo. In a game that featured a series of second-half runs by both teams and an 80-minute lightning delay in the second quarter, Notre Dame’s balanced scoring attack and stout defense proved to be the difference in the emotion-packed rematch from the 2014 NCAAs.

Notre Dame (12-2) next will face the University of Denver, which overcame a 7-1 deficit to defeat Ohio State 15-13 in Saturday’s second quarterfinal at Sports Authority Field. The Irish and Pioneers will meet on Saturday, May 23, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia (time TBD, either 1:00 or 3:30 ET).

It will mark the first time in Division I Lacrosse history that two teams outside the sports’ traditional eastern corridor have met on Championship Weekend. Prior to 2014 – when Notre Dame and Denver played in opposite semifinals – two teams outside the eastern corridor had not participated in the same Championship Weekend. Notre Dame’s previous trips to the final weekend came in 2001, ’10 (runner-up), ’12 and ’14 (runner-up) while Denver was an NCAA semifinalist in 2011 and ’13, plus ’14. This marks the sixth straight season that Notre Dame and/or Denver are among the four semifinalists.

Sophomore Sergio Perkovic registered his fifth hat trick of the season in scoring a season-high five goals and dishing off one assist, while senior Conor Doyle accounted for three goals and an assist. The Great Danes saw their nine-game win streak come to an end as they ended their season with a 16-3 record. The 10 goals were the second-fewest scored this season by the potent Albany offense.

“Today’s game was terrific. It was a fight. You make a couple plays; they make a couple plays. We go up four; they come roaring back with five,” said Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan, now in his 27th season directing the Irish.

“We struggled at times to be patient as much as we needed to be, but that’s partly a credit to them. They were pressing out on us. You look at our goals, there weren’t a lot of assisted goals because they weren’t sliding around too much. And that was partly our patience as well.”

After falling behind 9-8 with 2:25 left in the third quarter, following five straight Albany goals, Notre Dame was not rattled and used a patented scoring run of its own over the final 15 minutes.

“Defensively, I thought we got an unbelievable effort. Shane Doss played really well.” added Corrigan. “Matt Landis guarded [Lyle] Thompson as well as you can guard him. He’s a great, great player, and I thought Matt was terrific on him. But he had help.

“Our guys were making good slides and decisions. If you get caught in no-man’s land against a guy like that, he just kills you. I thought we did a nice job of not doing that too much. Overall, the one thing about us is I think we’ve been pretty balanced, and I think that came through today – balanced offensively, balanced defensively.”

Saturday’s matchup marked the second consecutive year that the teams met in the quarterfinals of the NCAAs. A year ago, Notre Dame secured a berth in the semifinals with a 15-14 overtime victory.

Notre Dame held Thompson, the NCAA’s most dynamic scorer, to one goal – but the player that Corrigan dubbed “the most creative” in college lacrosse history used that creativity to assist on four other goals. Thompson, who has scored 100-plus points in three consecutive seasons, finished off his career with an even 400 points.

“Like coach said, Lyle is one of the most electric players in the game,” noted Landis. “He’s a great athlete, he’s got great footwork but it was absolutely a team effort. I knew I had the support of guys on the inside. Eddie Glazener and Garrett Epple and Jack Near, they were pushing me. Then around the field, helping reduce the skip passes and lanes, that all really helped me have confidence on the ball.”

Most experts anticipated that the faceoff circle would play a central role and that certainly proved to be the case, with Notre Dame winning 18 of the 28 draws (64%). Sophomore P.J. Finley took the bulk of the faceoffs, winning 16 of 25, while Nick Ossello helped the Irish win two of his three draws.

Notre Dame clearly dominated the first quarter by outshooting Albany 13-8. The Great Danes struck first when Connor Fields scored the first of his game-high six goals off an assist from Thompson. For Thompson, it was an NCAA record-breaking 222nd career assist. Thompson eclipsed the mark of Tim Nelson of North Carolina State, set from 1982-85.

The Irish quickly struck back with a man-up goal by Perkovic, his 26th goal of the season, from Jim Marlatt with 9:12 to play in the first half. It proved to be Notre Dame’s only man-up opportunity man of the game, while Denver was 0-for-2 with the man-up advantage.

Albany retook the lead Albany 2-1 on Thompson’s only goal in the game. Doyle then connected for the Irish with his 28th score of the season with 2:03 remaining in the opening quarter.

Near gave Notre Dame its first lead of the game 3-2 on his 13th goal of the season 1:15 into the second quarter. The Irish had a couple of scoring chances after than point.

Albany’s Tim Cox knotted the game at 3-3 at 9:04, but that didn’t last long before junior Matt Kavanagh netted his 27th goal of the season, with 8:52 remaining in the quarter for a 4-3 lead in the see-saw earlygoing. It was Kavanagh’s first point in the NCAAs this season, after being held without a goal or an assist last weekend in Notre Dame’s 12-10 first-round win over Towson.

Notre Dame led 4-3 before the lightning delay suspended action with 5:44 left in the second quarter.

Following the delay, Notre Dame responded with a four-goal outburst as the Irish led 8-4 at the halftime break. Senior Will Corrigan gave the Irish a 5-3 advantage, extending his goal-scoring streak to a career-best four consecutive games.

In a span of only 2:24, following the 80-minute weather delay, the Irish suddenly had transformed a 4-3 lead into an 8-4 game.

The combination of Fields and Thompson connected for the second time in the game again with 2:47 remaining, before back-to-back scores by Doyle at 2:31 and 1:22 pushed Notre Dame’s lead to 7-4. Perkovic closed out the second-quarter scoring, as the Irish led 8-4 with 57 seconds left in the first half.

Notre Dame outshot the Great Danes 32-17 and held Albany to its lowest scoring output in the first half this season. Entering the game, Albany had outscored its opponents 74-19 in the first 30 minutes.

Albany quickly claimed the momentum by outscoring the Irish 5-0 in the third quarter. Fields connected on both of the goals to pull the Great Danes to within 8-6 with 7:27 remaining in the third quarter. The two scores marked his 63rd and 64th goals of the season.

Seth Oakes pulled Albany to within 8-7 with his first goal of the game at 6:11. Albany’s run continued with a fourth straight goal, when Fields tallied his fifth goal of the game off an assist from Oakes. Kyle McClancy then pushed the Great Danes to a 9-8 lead with his 17th goal of the season (at 2:25), off a feed from Matt Garziano.

After being held scoreless for the first time in the third quarter of a game all season, Notre Dame quickly got its high-scoring offense in gear by bunching two goals early in the final quarter. Perkovic registered his third goal of the game and fifth hat trick of the season at 13:36, followed by Jim Marlatt’s second goal of the NCAA postseason just 16 seconds later.

Freshman Mikey Wynne continued Notre Dame the scoring run with his team-leading 33rd goal of the season and first of the NCAA postseason.

Ossello, from nearby Wheat Ridge, Colo., scored the first of his two fourth-quarter goals on an unassisted tally with 9:07 to play. Less than three minutes later, Perkovic scored his fourth goal of the game off a feed from Near with 6:23 to play. Ossello registered Notre Dame’s sixth straight goal in the run off an assist from Perkovic with 5:45 to play, sealing the Irish victory.

Thompson scored the game’s final goal with 27.9 seconds remaining to notch his 400th career point.

Notre Dame will face Denver in next weekend’s NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship semifinal matchup on May 23 in Philadelphia. The Pioneers defeated the Irish 11-10 in overtime back on March 7, in Denver.