April 18, 2016
By Leigh Torbin
Two of the top four offenses in the country matched up at Arlotta Stadium on Monday afternoon as No. 6 Notre Dame (fourth nationally at 14.87 goals per game) and No. 5 USC (first nationally at 15.36 goals per game) transitioned an ancient football rivalry to the lacrosse field for the first time.
Curiously, the end result of the two high-octane offenses clashing was the lowest scoring game in Notre Dame history with the Trojans scoring five of the game's nine goals to take a 5-4 victory. The Irish had previously been involved in five 11-goal games, most recently a 6-5 loss to to Cornell in 2011, but never a combined single-digit contest.
Neither team led by more than a single goal on Monday as the 5-4 score included four ties and three lead changes. Each of the nine goals scored on Monday either gave a team the lead or tied the score. The Women of Troy went ahead on Michaela Michael's goal with 14:58 to play and were able to stall through the majority of the clock from there.
"It's tough to know that USC maybe made one play more than we did," Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. "You have to give credit to both defensive units and both goalkeepers today. To put two of the top scoring offenses at their season lows at four and five goals is something that's pretty special for them to hang on to.
"We want to build off of that defensive outing but it was clear from the players to each other (in the locker room after the game) that four goals is unacceptable with the scoring offense and high-octane that we have. Four is not who we are. We need to be better. We'll prepare and definitely be better next time out."
Played at a remarkably slow pace, Notre Dame outshot USC 20-19 but the 20 shots were a season-low for the Irish and 19 matched a season-low for the Trojans. Both teams by far had their lowest scoring outputs of the year. Samantha Giacolone made nine saves in the Irish net while Gussie Johns stopped 10 shots for the Trojans.
Although regrettably coming in a losing effort, today's game marked the seventh time this year the Irish have held their opponent to five goals or less. This breaks the previous school record of six such games, set in 2002.
Cortney Fortunato scored twice for the Irish. Stephanie Toy and Grace Muller scored one goal each. Casey Pearsall had two helpers for Notre Dame while Kiera McMullan set up a goal as well. Michael had two goals and an assist for the Women of Troy with both of the scores coming in the decisive second half.
Toy opened the scoring, set up by Pearsall, 2:09 into the game but the Trojans tied it up at 1-1 about three minutes later on an Amanda Johansen strike. USC went up 2-1 but Notre Dame equalized at 2-2 on a Muller goal from McMullan. Notre Dame regained the lead at 3-2 when Fortunato scored her 48th goal of the year, from Pearsall, 16:37 before halftime. The Trojans knotted things back up with 13:28 to go on an unassisted Kylie Drexel goal and the teams would eventually go to the locker rooms for halftime still tied 3-3.
USC regained the lead at 4-3, 5:07 into the second half when Michael scored but Fortunato evened the score at the 17:34 mark on a free position shot where she didn't charge the net, rather taking a single left-footed step forward and firing a bullet into the top corner. Michael's free position goal with 14:58 to play gave the Trojans the lead back at 5-4 and through some occasionally-glacial play it held up. The Irish got the ball back several times over the game's scoreless final quarter but USC's defense also held its ground. The Irish were undone in part by 12 second half turnovers, resulting in just four shots and one goal after intermission.
The Irish will cap their regular season on Saturday afternoon at No. 15 Ohio State. The Irish claimed two meetings with the Buckeyes last year, winning, 13-5, on March 21 at Arlotta Stadium and, more importantly, winning 13-11 on May 8 in the first round of the NCAA Championship.
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women's lacrosse team while serving as the football publicity team's top lieutenant. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.