March 6, 2016
By: John Heisler
This began as a slugfest of epic proportions between two men’s lacrosse teams good enough to have played on NCAA Championship weekend in 2015–and probably good enough to do it again in 2016.
Top-ranked and unbeaten Notre Dame and an eighth-rated Maryland team smarting from a road loss to Yale last weekend went toe to toe in the ring for about 14 of the 15 rounds Saturday night in Costa Mesa, California.
If the sellout crowd at Orange Coast College’s LeBard Stadium wanted a shootout in an event billed with that phrase (the third annual Pacific Coast Shootout), it may initially have been disappointed–because for about 55 minutes neither of these defenses gave an inch.
There simply weren’t many open looks to be had by either side, and when entry passes were made anywhere near the crease, they either didn’t connect or resulted in an offensive player sandwiched between multiple defenders.
The scoreboard at the end read 9-4 in favor of Notre Dame, but this was nowhere near a 9-4 game. Until the final moments, fans from both programs bit their fingers nervously because that’s how close the margin was.
Credit Notre Dame sophomore Mikey Wynne (he had four goals) for not getting frustrated despite the few opportunities he had. With the Irish holding on to a tense 5-4 lead he picked up a loose ball after Ryder Garnsey missed a shot and, in all kinds of traffic, somehow managed to score. That goal opened the dam, and the Irish ended up scoring five straight goals in the last 5:22.
“We can talk about all the preparation, the scouting reports and all the film we watch,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan told his team just before the game.
“But this isn’t a chess match. You’re not taking a test. It’s going to happen at full speed.
“When we get to days like this, it’s fun. They lost their last game, so they’re not going to settle for that again. We’ve got to match their intensity.”
What happened after that began as a long, tough slog for both teams. There were long possessions, key saves in tough spot by both goalies and precious few unsettled situations. There was seldom much room to operate for anybody on the offensive end. Perkovic was hounded so doggedly that he at one point fired an over-the-shoulder, behind-the-back rocket in an attempt to locate some daylight.
The Terps dodged some bullets early when the only penalties in the game–all against Maryland in a four-and-a half-minute span of the opening period–resulted in nothing for the Irish.
But credit Notre Dame for eliminating most everything the Terps tried offensively. In fact, one of the four Maryland goals was a layup in transition after a Notre Dame turnover. Other than that, Notre Dame goaltender Shane Doss was up to most all the challenges thrown his way.
The Irish played it smart down the stretch. After Wynne’s goal at 5:22 made it 5-4 for Corrigan’s crew, Notre Dame got the ball back and called a timeout at the 4:30 mark. Almost exactly a minute later, Wynne grabbed a loose ball in front of the goal, battled for a sliver of space and put it into the net–and fans had the sense that a two-goal lead at the 3:29 mark had left the Irish in good shape.
“It was a testament to both defenses tonight,” offered Irish senior All-America defender Matt Landis. “It was really tight. The attack rode really well, they (the Terps) couldn’t clear the ball as well as they wanted to (only 13 of 19) and all that played into holding them to four goals.
“As the clock runs down, you feel a little more pressure, but I feel like a lot of these guys have played in a lot of big games and been in a lot of these situations. It really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for us.”
The numbers now say the Irish are allowing only 5.5 goals per game. The 2016 season marks the first time in Notre Dame lacrosse history the Irish have started with four consecutive wins and held their opponents to seven or fewer goals in all four contests.
“It’s a little bit of pressure as a goalie, knowing one shot could change the game,” said Doss. “But we kept our composure and I think Coach Corrigan has really prepared us for tough situations like that.”
Added Wynne, “A game like this forces you to dig deep. It was tough for both teams to score. Things just kind of fell our way at the end. Every possession was valued. You have to realize that if you lose the ball, it may be the last time you see it. You have to value every pass.”
“That was outstanding defense by two teams that are very good,” said Corrigan. “Both goalies played great and made great saves when they needed to. You weren’t going to get tons of great chances, and the goalies take away a few and it becomes hard.
“We had to not lose our composure. It was a really good, smart, hard-fought game and one you are really happy to win at the end. It was really a 6-4 game, and then they had to chase us around at the end. That does not change what that game was for 58 minutes.
“This was a great win for us. This is the first time he had our tails in the vise, and we held our composure and made some plays when we really needed to. That’s a great thing.”
Said Corrigan to his squad a half-hour after the action on the field had concluded, “There was nothing easy about that, other than the last minute. There wasn’t an easy ground ball in that game. There wasn’t an easy goal to be had, for sure. There wasn’t anything that was easy, because that was a very well-prepared team. So that’s something early in the year for us to build on.
“They came in to make it hard on Sergio and they made it hard on Sergio. But that’s okay because he can handle that and he can make other guys better by making plays that don’t make the headlines.
“Defensively, that was a great effort. Maryland will prove over the course of the year that it’s a very good offensive team.
“Riding was probably the difference in the game, because that’s five or six possessions we had that they did not have.”
Plus, P.J. Finley went up against the top-rated face-off performer in the country and won nine of 17.
Wynne presented the team’s “man of the match” award to the entire defensive unit.
Meanwhile, the Irish victory meant Maryland lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2012 and the first time under current coach John Tillman (he came in 3-0 against top-rated teams).
On this night, the Irish prevailed against one of the teams from the 2015 NCAA title game.
Next Sunday, Notre Dame will have yet another chance to prove itself against the team–currently unbeaten Denver–that defeated the Terps in that championship game.
It figures to be yet another championship-caliber bout for an Irish team that’s beginning to assume those are weekly occurrences. John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.
The University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team pursues excellence on and off the field through the three pillars in which the program is built: Character, Culture & Community. These three foundational values guide the promise of the program, which is to provide its student-athletes with the most compelling and enriching experience in all of college athletics. Through academics, competition, service and travel, the program aims to immerse its players in situations that enhance their student-athlete experience to help them become the people, students and teammates they aspire to be.
Follow the Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team on social media and the Internet …
Click here to follow ND Lacrosse on Twitter
Click here to follow ND Lacrosse Coaching Tips on Twitter
Click here to learn more about the ND Lacrosse Experience on Twitter
Click here to like ND Lacrosse on Facebook
Click here to subscribe to NDLaxTV YouTube Channel
Click here to read the latest news on ND Lacrosse
Click here to learn more about ND Lacrosse Camps
Click here to learn about ND Lacrosse community service on Twitter