May 14, 2017
By John Heisler
Worried that senior All-America midfielder Sergio Perkovic was ailing and hadn't taken a shot in two weeks as University of Notre Dame men's lacrosse coach Kevin Corrigan suggested after the game Sunday?
Thinking that maybe the Irish offense was in trouble considering Notre Dame needed all six of Perkovic's career-high six goals to dispatch Marquette 11-10 in South Bend on April 11?
Wondering if sophomore sniper Ryder Garnsey was any closer to full effectiveness after he sat out last weekend's regular-season finale at Army?
Didn't know if top face-off specialist P.J. Finley, who also sat out the Army match, would be ready for duty Sunday?
Thinking that the Irish, who had won only three of their last seven games--and all three of those by a single goal--seemed headed in the wrong direction?
Believing that the team with the most momentum actually was unseeded Marquette after the Golden Eagles' Big East Championship victory last weekend, including a win over NCAA five seed Denver?
Worried that maybe Inside Lacrosse was right in branding Notre Dame a "shaky home favorite"?
Distressed when the Irish injury situation only got worse five minutes into the game when senior captain Nick Koshansky limped off the field and returned on crutches?
Yet remember that--other than Koshansky's latest issue--the rest of those scenarios were left from the regular season.
Thinking that all this looked terribly familiar, considering Marquette needed to win its conference tournament to have a chance to play in the NCAA Championship in much the same fashion North Carolina did in defeating Notre Dame to claim the Atlantic Coast Conference crown two weeks ago?
It was obvious Sunday the fourth-seeded Irish (now 9-5) had left all that behind as they began their second season--the NCAA Championship. They handled the first round of the postseason bracket with a poised and impressive 15-9 wire-to-wire victory over an unseeded Marquette team (finished for 2017 at 8-8) making its second consecutive NCAA appearance in only its fifth season as a varsity program.
Remember that this is May--and that means something to the Irish who now move to the quarterfinals Saturday at Hofstra against fourth-seeded Denver as the only program in the country to advance to at least that round in eight consecutive seasons.
Notre Dame did it Sunday on a spectacular 71-degree day at Arlotta Stadium by molding its best combination of offense and defense in a while--and showcasing the offensive play-making skills of a couple of individuals who admittedly surprised Marquette coach Joe Amplo at least a little bit.
The day began in the Irish locker room when Corrigan announced that Irish senior players had requested that Perkovic wear the number-40 jersey not normally available for the active roster. That 40 jersey is framed in the Notre Dame Arlotta Stadium team room--and it's dedicated to the memory of former Irish captain Mike Sennett, a 1991 graduate who died of a heart attack in 2007 at age 40.
"Whatever happens today, it's us," said Corrigan before the game. "It's all about trust. Trust each other, trust yourself to make the right plays."
That emotion seemed to play out immediately on the field as Notre Dame (ranked fifth this week by the coaches and seventh by the media) built a 4-1 lead a minute into the second period. Notre Dame's first two goals came less than a minute apart from Brendan Gleason and Brendan Collins less than three minutes into the action--and that should have given Amplo and his players a sense of what was to come the rest of the way.
"I was really excited about how we played early," said Corrigan later. "I thought we set the tone. We didn't feel like we had a lot of empty possessions today."
The Golden Eagles next made their best run of the day--answering that three-goal deficit with three goals in a span of 1:28 to tie the contest. But Notre Dame had its own answer in scoring the next four goals. The Irish tallied twice in the final minute of the first half--the second with 10 seconds left on Mikey Wynne's first shot of the day.
"We're doing a great job of grinding them on possessions, and we're getting great shots on offense," added Corrigan to his team. And as Irish assistant Gerry Byrne noted, with Notre Dame up three at intermission, "Their best players are not going to sit back on their heels."
Wynne scored again 32 seconds into the third period, Gleason had a hat trick in the third session alone (three goals in 8:08) and Collins' unassisted tally 3:04 in the final period gave the Irish their largest lead of the afternoon at 13-7.
Worried that the health issues of Perkovic (he finished with a team-high eight shots and one assist but was obviously not in top form) and Garnsey (he had a goal, two assists and three shots) might have a significant effect?
Irish fans had to be impressed with the Notre Dame depth on that side of the ball--as Gleason notched a third straight hat trick and finished with a career-high five goals (on only six shots), also tying the Notre Dame NCAA single-game mark for goals in a game. Several times he fought his way to the goal through heavy traffic.
Collins came in having scored only five goals all season long and never more than one in a game (in fact he'd never taken more than three shots in a game), and he finished with a career-best four goals (on five shots).
"The plays came to them and they made `em," Corrigan said of Gleason and Collins.
The Irish won only nine of 28 face-offs but made the most of their offensive possessions. The 15 goals marked the most by Notre Dame since February (the Irish had 16 each in back-to-back wins to start the year).
Marquette had four man-up opportunities to make inroads into the deficit but couldn't convert on any of them--and Notre Dame's ride and pressure made the visitors uncomfortable most of the day.
"They are very good at changing the tide and the comfort in the middle of the field. They pressured us and took us out of our comfort zone. Their ride is what separates them from other programs and certainly from us," said Amplo.
Added Corrigan, "We did a great job of hustling, we found we could be disruptive and that gave our guys some energy."
Marquette's Grant Preisler, who had seven combined points in the Big East Championship, didn't make the score sheet Sunday. Leading Golden Eagle goal-scorer Joe Dunn managed only one score.
Maybe the most telling statistics came in the save department. Marquette net-minder Cole Blazer, the outstanding player last weekend in the Big East Championship, did not make a save in either the second or third period (Notre Dame scored a combined nine goals in those periods).
Meanwhile, Irish senior Shane Doss finished with a dozen saves (his fourth straight game with 10 or more), as the Notre Dame defense seemed to be able to consistently push the Golden Eagles out of the things they most wanted to do on the offensive end.
Said Corrigan to his team in the locker room after the game, "That was terrific. We just kind of methodically kept playing and executing. There were a lot of good, smart simple plays made out there today.
"I loved the way we played today, I loved the attitude from beginning to end. Let's stay on track."
Later to the media, Corrigan noted, "This wasn't the time to worry about who couldn't do what. This was about what we could do as a team. We weren't worried for one second about what was not there."
Amplo could not avoid the fact the Irish were simply better on Sunday:
"They beat us up today. They are really good at lacrosse--that's pretty obvious. We got beat by a better team today and that's OK to say. It's nothing we did wrong. Notre Dame is just better at lacrosse than Marquette right now."
Added senior Marquette midfielder Andy DeMichiei (two goals, one assist): "We realized we were not going to beat them one on one."
Offered a chance to preview next week's Notre Dame-Denver NCAA quarterfinal matchup (his Golden Eagles played both teams twice in 2017), Amplo offered:
"Every time those guys play it's a great game.
"After watching Notre Dame today, they are better than I thought they were. With Perkovic and Garnsey not looking like they were 100 percent, they've got some other guys who surprised me today.
"It's going to come down to who can execute in the moment."
Noted Corrigan, "I think we're going to continue to get better because we're going to get healthier and get some guys the chance to practice.
"We don't have to speculate about how we match up with Denver (since the two teams played March 12 at Denver with the Pioneers winning 11-10). It's nice to have that reference point."
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.