April 1, 2017
By John Heisler
Atlantic Coast Conference men's lacrosse members have perfected the art of the one-goal game in 2017--with every league contest so far ending with that slim margin.
In fact, seven straight Syracuse games--the last five of them victories--have ended with one-goal differences--and even Notre Dame so far this spring has played four one-goal contests, with three of its last four outings ending with 11-10 scores.
Until last year's 17-7 romp by the Irish at Syracuse, the previous three Notre Dame-Orange meetings had been decided by a single tally--and in 2016 the Irish played five one-goal games (four that went to overtime, three won by Notre Dame).
All of that suggests that the result Saturday on a sun-splashed 50-degree day at Arlotta Stadium should have surprised no one.
Third-rated Syracuse fought off a late Irish rally that tied the game late in the third period and held on for an 11-10 triumph in front of a packed house in top-rated Notre Dame's home facility.
That gives the Orange three one-goal ACC wins (also at home versus Virginia and last time in overtime against Duke) and that may well be good enough to push Syracuse past Notre Dame--this week's consensus top-ranked team--into first place in the polls.
But nobody should hold his or her breath because maintaining that top rating for more than a week has been virtually impossible in 2017 (already five different teams have held the top ranking, including Notre Dame and Denver on two different occasions).
Give Syracuse credit for plenty of solid defensive work against the normal biggest Irish offensive weapons. After ties at one, two and three goals (there was a first-period flurry of four combined goals by the two teams in 1:07), the Orange notched three in a row in the second period for a 6-4 advantage. John Desko's squad held that two-goal margin at 7-5 at intermission. What turned out to be Notre Dame's last lead came at 4-3 after long-stick midfielder John Sexton's second goal in as many games. Syracuse's 4-2 margin in the second period featured a 14-4 edge in shots.
At the halfway mark, that Syracuse defense had held both Sergio Perkovic and Ryder Garnsey without a shot and limited Mikey Wynne to only one (those three had combined for more than half the Irish goals coming into action Saturday).
The visitors scored first in the third period for the first three-goal margin of the day (8-5 at 12:23) before Notre Dame finally heated up on the offensive end.
After Syracuse (now 7-1 overall and 3-0 in ACC games) built a 9-6 advantage on consecutive Nate Solomon scores, Timmy Phillips took a Garnsey pass and flipped it in behind his back. Less than two minutes later Garnsey's first shot of the afternoon made it 9-8 at the 4:05 juncture. Then Perkovic tied the game at nine at 3:38 on his 99th career goal--as the Irish rebounded with three scores in a 2:15 period.
The Irish outshot Syracuse 12-7 in that third period against the Orange, who average 10 shots more per game than their opponents.
Syracuse senior middie Nick Mariano essentially scored the game-winners, notching goals at 13:41 and 8:42 of the final period to put his team up by a pair. That offset Brendan Collins' Irish goal with 6:49 remaining that made it--yes--a one-goal game.
Both teams had their chances to change things in the final minutes--and the Irish had the ball for the final minute. But sophomore Brendan Gleason, who had two goals (the only Irish player with more than one Saturday) was smothered to the right of the Orange net in the final seconds.
Mariano finished with four goals--his best outing of 2017 in that category. The combination of Perkovic, Wynne and Garnsey ended up with only a combined five shots on goal--as Wynne was held without a goal and off the score sheet for the first time in 2017.
Irish coach Kevin Corrigan made sure his Irish (now 5-2 overall and 1-1 in ACC play) understood championships are not won in March or even on the first day of April.
In a quiet Irish locker room he said: "Let's not whine and mope, let's just get back to work. We've got Duke next week, then Marquette and North Carolina, then the ACC Tournament and Army. Did I mention anybody that's not in the top 20 right there? There's no such thing for us the rest of the way.
"We've got to stay determined and we've got to stay resilient and we've got to be ready to come back on Monday and say, `Where can we get better?' We know we've got to be on our game every time we come to play.
"Let's just stay determined and willful about what we know we need to do. We'll pull together and move forward."
The Irish head to Duke Saturday for a second consecutive conference assignment.
The last time those two teams saw each other they played a (what a shocker) one-goal game in overtime in the 2016 ACC Tournament semifinals.
Fans of both programs can make their 2017 plans accordingly.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978. Watch for his weekly Sunday Brunch offerings on UND.com.