April 14, 2016
By John Heisler
After 60 minutes of crazy ground balls, game-preserving saves and bruising checks, the Notre Dame-Marquette men’s lacrosse game Wednesday at Arlotta Stadium reduced itself to the simplest of terms:
Win the face-off, grab the critical ground ball-and then put the ball in the hands of the senior All-America attackman to win the game.
So that’s what the Irish did.
As the two 8-1 teams played to a 7-7 regulation standoff, the 19th-rated Golden Eagles earned multiple extra credits for scoring three straight times to start the third period to come back from what appeared to be a relatively comfortable 5-2 Notre Dame halftime lead.
After the second-rated Irish assumed another two-goal advantage heading into the final period, Marquette did it again-notching the only two goals in the fourth quarter.
So the action came back to a crucial overtime face-off, won by sophomore John Travisano Jr.–who came off the bench in that role (after not playing at all Sunday against Duke) to win two in the second period, two of three in the third and then two more in the fourth period and overtime. Travisano and P.J. Finley alternated taking face-offs starting in the second period, and Travisano claimed the overtime assignment.
Savvy sophomore John Sexton nabbed the ground ball to ensure the Irish possession and Notre Dame called timeout 13 seconds into the overtime session. From there it took all of 17 seconds for the ball to end in the hands of all-star Matt Kavanagh, who wheeled directly in front of the net, about 10 yards out, and evaded a defender to create just enough space to nail one of his patented left-handed blasts.
Thirty seconds into the extra session the Irish had their ninth win of the 2016 season.
“We felt like we had something there (on the last possession of regulation),” said Irish coach Kevin Corrigan. “Mikey (Wynne) got a great shot, so we ran the same type action again. We didn’t figure we’d get Mikey again, but in taking away Mikey we thought we’d get something else and we did.”
Noted Kavanagh, who had ended play with goals in three previous career overtime games:
“We went back to the play we drew up originally. The second time around we got better spacing. They extended on Sergio (Perkovic) and that gave me the opportunity to get to the middle. It happened quick, but it was something we had gone over.”
No one had to say it, but the Irish had to like their chances if they could get their veteran playmaker-maybe the most experienced player in the country in that role-with any kind of hands-free opportunity against a sophomore Marquette goalie making only his third career start.
The list of Kavanagh overtime goals now numbers four:
— Penn State in his 2013 freshman campaign
— A week later against North Carolina when he tied the game with 11 seconds remaining in regulation, then won it in the third overtime
— The 2014 NCAA Championship quarterfinal against Albany, capping an amazing Irish comeback (his celebration of that play later landed him on the cover of Lacrosse magazine)
— Wednesday against Marquette
An overtime ending tends to obscure all that comes before it:
— First-time senior midfield starter Cole Riccardi scored an unassisted second-period goal to put the Irish up 3-1. (A huge Los Angeles Lakers fan who wore his white Kobe Bryant jersey Wednesday, Riccardi capped his night by watching Bryant go out in style.)
— The reigning Atlantic Coast Conference co-defensive player of the week, Sexton sprinted end to end to score with three seconds left in the third period to leave Notre Dame with a two-goal advantage heading to the final period. He finished with a career-high seven ground balls.
— Even before his game-winning goal, Kavanagh had a hat trick by the time he scored his third goal with 5:45 left in the third period (that broke the 5-5 tie).
— Notre Dame’s team defense showed impressively in the opening half, limiting Marquette to 14 shots (only seven on net). The two first-half goals by the Golden Eagles matched the best Irish scoring defense of 2016 in the first two periods combined (Maryland and Virginia also were held to a pair).
The overtime outcome also made somewhat mute a hectic final eight minutes in regulation after Marquette tied the game at seven:
— The Irish thought they had taken the lead at the 7:32 mark of the fourth period when a flag was followed by a Wynne goal from right in front. But the officials ruled no goal because the pushing penalty occurred before the shot, and Notre Dame did not convert on the 30-second extra-man opportunity.
— Ryder Garnsey managed a great underhanded chance that Marquette goalie Cole Blazer saved-and Blazer a few minutes later made a nice stop against Perkovic.
— The visitors called time at 2:54, and then their shot found the outside of the net at about 1:23. The Irish called their own timeouts at 1:07 and again at :17.5 (after a Perkovic shot went high)-before Wynne misfired at the :09.6 mark.
Before the game, Corrigan challenged his charges to ignore the stigma of the sticky midweek assignment and simply play their game. As he suggested, you don’t make a decision to compete only on Saturdays or Sundays–you do it every day.
“You made that decision when you signed up to be here,” Corrigan said. “We show up to play every day.”
The end result may not have earned the Irish much in the way of style points-yet the way it played out once again showed how comfortable Notre Dame is in dealing with tense end-game situations.
Corrigan would love it if some of his team’s unforced errors on offense would disappear. He knows his team can be tough to beat if it takes care of the ball.
“We know we gave away some opportunities, and we had some turnovers we need to eliminate,” he said. “We need to put more pressure on defenses and cut down on empty possessions. It’s all about us and what we’re doing.
“We are where we want to be right now and we’ve had to do it against good teams.”
The remaining challenges for the Irish are now in clear view:
— On April 23 the Irish play at 10th-rated and surging North Carolina with a chance to finish unbeaten in ACC play and claim the regular-season conference crown.
— A week later it’s the ACC Championship in Atlanta (Notre Dame won that event in 2014 in its first year in the league).
— Then on May 8, the Irish finish the regular season with a home game against Army-and seven hours after that event concludes the NCAA Championship bracket for 2016 will be revealed.
“We want to be the best team we can be,” noted Corrigan to his squad. “We’ve got high standards for ourselves, and we don’t get there by playing easy games.”
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.
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