May 25, 2014
It was just the type of suffocating 110-yard performance that Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan had been looking for from his team.
Facing the ACC regular season champion in Maryland in the NCAA semifinals, Notre Dame's defense pressured the Terrapins into turning the ball over 19 times, their season-high. Behind that defense, goalie Conor Kelly made 14 saves on 20 shots on goal, a tremendous percentage of .700. The Irish midfield helped pressure Maryland into five failed clears. The Irish offense scored 11 goals against a Terrapin defense that led the nation by allowing just 7.00 goals per game, matching the season-high against Maryland.
The end result of this end-to-end display of lacrosse prowess was an 11-6 Irish win and two more days in Baltimore's delightful Inner Harbor with a chance at the program's first national championship. Notre Dame takes aim at Duke on Monday at 1:00 p.m. on ESPN2.
"We worked very hard this year to become a 110 yard field team, whether it's riding, whether it's transition offense to defense or defense to offense," Corrigan said. "You coach to the talent that you have, and it's clear that when you watch us play, we've got some pretty good athletes. We wanted to use the field and be better at that."
Notre Dame left little doubt early on the game that its defense would loom over the M&T Bank Stadium turf on this comfortably sunny Saturday afternoon. Before the Terrapins could even record their first shot on goal, the team had committed five turnovers, three of them officially caused by the Irish, and fired six shots that were off the mark from long range. Meanwhile, Notre Dame had scored a pair of goals to take a 2-0 lead while the number zero still hung in Maryland's shots on goal stat column.
Stephen O'Hara may be the first-team All-American but you can't hold off a whole team by yourself. Matt Landis and Garrett Epple amongst others help keep the Terps largely off the scoreboard. Landis caused a game-high three turnovers. Epple gobbled up a team-high five ground balls. Meanwhile, O'Hara was fastened to two-time All-American attacker Mike Chanenchuk like the Old Bay seasoning on a crab cake. Under pressure all game long, Chanenchuk managed just a single goal and a single assist although averaging 3.6 points per game coming into the contest.
Forming this cohesive unit has not been a simple task but the Irish have long hung its gold helmets on defensive prowess and coach Corrigan is happy to have found the right mix just in time.
"I don't know that we've made any huge adjustments as much as we've just gotten better over the course of the year," Corrigan said. "Garrett Epple has made a huge difference. He is a freshman who has come in and gotten better over the course of the year. Nick Koshansky, is a freshman who is playing as a short stick D middie. Tyler Brenneman has played more as a senior than he played for three years combined before that. So you have to grow into those roles. Matt Landis was playing long pole last year and he's playing close this year. So I think we've evolved defensively and just gotten better, and it's nice to see."
Stout defense and turnovers can lead to transition opportunities that become goals as well. Notre Dame poured in 11 of them on Saturday afternoon, led by five from Matt Kavanagh and two each from Nick Ossello and John Scioscia.
It marks the fifth consecutive game where the Irish have scored at least 11 goals, the longest stretch that Notre Dame has enjoyed since a run of eight straight games with at least 11 goals scored in 2007. It was the 12th time this year that the Irish have scored in double figures, tying the 2009 team for the most since 2001 when Notre Dame scored at least 10 goals in a game 14 times en route to the national semifinals.
Saturday was a milestone day for Kavanagh who also chipped in a pair of assists for a seven-point day, one shy of his career high total of eight set earlier this year against Ohio State. The second-team All-American's hat trick against Maryland was his eighth of the year overall and pushed him over the 70-point plateau on the 2014 campaign. In fact his 72 points are just two shy of matching Randy Colley's school record of 74 set in 1995. Kavanagh now ranks sixth in school history with his 40 goals and is tied for the top seasonal mark in Irish lore with his 32 assists.
"I think somebody said he's had a really good hot streak. I think it started his sophomore year in high school," Corrigan quipped with the media afterwards. "I haven't seen it abate since then. He's a terrific player. He's a hard guy to cover off ball. He's a hard guy to cover inside. He's a hard guy to cover with the ball on his stick in two man game. He's a hard guy to cover in space. There are a lot of different things you can do with him.
"Again, as part of the trip of this year, we've had to learn. People have schemed against him, and we've had to learn how to keep him relevant in different games. I think it's helped us to give some variety to our offense and to allow him to be effective no matter what people are doing and no matter how they're playing him."
Without mentioning it by name, one of those games where Kavanagh had to learn to adjust was April 5 against Duke where he was completely shut out of the scoring ledger. The Blue Devils won that game at Arlotta Stadium, 15-7, by far Notre Dame's most lopsided loss of the year. The Irish have grown and matured since that contest, part of a three-game ACC slump that seems in some respects like it happened years ago.
Notre Dame has been on both the rebound and on the warpath since its April 19 loss to the Terrapins. The Irish have avenged two of those three ACC losses along the way, beating Maryland a second time for good measure. If Notre Dame can make it a hat trick on Memorial Day and also avenge its previous loss to Duke, the pinnacle of the lacrosse world awaits.