April 29, 2016
BLACKSBURG, Va. -
By Leigh Torbin
Notre Dame fans, certainly the vast majority of the ones who have seen "Rudy," know well that in the 1920s Knute Rockne recreated a locker room pep talk for news reels where he invigorated the Fighting Irish by saying that "we're going inside of `em, we're going outside of `em -- inside of `em! outside of `em! -- and when we get them on the run once, we're going to keep `em on the run."
Almost 90 years later, the No. 6 Notre Dame women's lacrosse team took things a tad literally on Thursday night. They played No. 8 Louisville outside at Lane Stadium in the ACC quarterfinals. They played Louisville inside the Virginia Tech Indoor Football Practice Facility.
Notre Dame had Louisville figuratively on the run, leading 9-3 at halftime when thunderstorms rolled in necessitating the venue change after a 1:17 lightning delay. The resuscitated Cardinals would claw back into the game once indoors, but Notre Dame's offense was able to keep Louisville literally on the run over the final two minutes. The Irish maintained possession when it mattered most and maintained their lead to defeat Louisville, 12-10.
The win propels the Irish into the ACC semifinals for the second consecutive year and a matchup with No. 4 Syracuse at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night back at the outdoor home of Hokie football, Lane Stadium. Just as tonight's win avenged a one-goal regular season loss for the Irish, Notre Dame will have the same opportunity later tonight against an Orange team which claimed a narrow 12-11 win at Arlotta Stadium on March 26, leaving a bad taste in Notre Dame's collective mouths.
Thursday night, the taste of revenge was sweet for the Irish. During the regular season, Notre Dame let a 7-4 second half lead slip away against the Cardinals who claimed an overtime win in Louisville on March 5. This time, in the ACC quarterfinals, the Irish raced out to a 10-3 lead before a 5-0 Cardinal run made it a 10-8 game midway through the second half. The Irish would halt their skid, unlike the March meeting, recover, and march onward to victory.
"In the second half, obviously, there was lots of adversity for both teams having a long delay and then changing venues," Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. "That said, we were happy to get the game in (instead of a potential postponement until Friday morning) and I'm really proud of my team's resilience. Credit Louisville for making some plays on fast breaks and eight-meters. They were able to come away with goals. But, for our team, I loved my squad. They had some great possessions. We stayed with it. We handled the ball well (11 turnovers are second-fewest this year). We were 100% on our clears (10-for-10 in the game and 5-for-5 after halftime). I feel like we gave ourselves great opportunities and did what we had to do to survive and advance. We're excited an now it's all about a quick turn-around, a quick recovery, and facing Syracuse (tonight)."
In addition to the scant turnover count and clearances, another factor cited by Halfpenny were draw controls. Louisville entered the game outgaining its opponent 215-115 for the year in draw controls, affording the Cardinals the benefit of 100 additional possessions. In the March 5 meeting, Louisville topped the Irish 14-8 on draw controls. Thursday night, Notre Dame beat Louisville, 14-10 on draw controls. The 14 draw controls were the third-most Louisville had surrendered in a game this year with a stout until led by Kaylin Morissette. The senior ranked second nationally entering the game with 8.94 per game. Tonight, she had six.
"We came out the way we want to come out attacking," Halfpenny said. "Barbara Sullivan (four draw controls) and Casey Pearsall (three) did an amazing job on (Kaylin Morissette). To come away leading 14-10 in the draw category is something I'm really proud of our team for. We were locked in one what we needed to do and made adjustments all along the way. That was exciting to see because not only did Barbara do a great job and Casey did a great job but they got a little help from their friends crashing off the line (six other players had at least one draw control for Notre Dame). The middies, the low attack, everybody was getting involved and that was a big difference. When a game finishes 12-10 and draw controls were 14-10, it's really exciting having that stat in our favor."
Another thing dependably in Notre Dame's favor was a big offensive night from Cortney Fortunato. The junior turned in her 30th career hat trick and then some, scoring four goals and adding an assist. Notre Dame is now 25-5 when Fortunato has a hat trick, including an 11-1 mark in 2016. Kiera McMullan, Pearsall and Rachel Sexton scored two goals apiece for Notre Dame.
Meanwhile, freshman goalkeeper Samantha Giacolone held her ground well at the opposite end of both field, making eight saves, most-notably aptly denying Cardinal free position opportunities. Louisville was just 2-of-9 on the night on free positions while the Irish converted on four of their six opportunities.
Notre Dame outshot Louisville 24 to 22, making it 16 times in 18 games for the Irish in which it has taken more shots. Although the Irish were efficient with the ball, turning it over just 11 times, so too were the Cardinals. Louisville turned the ball over just 13 times on Thursday night, a season low for opponents against Notre Dame's national-leading defense in caused turnovers.
Back on grainy black-and-white film in the 1920s, Rockne told his Notre Dame football team "and don't forget, men -- today is the day we're gonna win." Our Lady's Fighting Irish of 2016 heeded the words delivered to their figurative great great grandfathers who wore the same blue and gold monogram. Notre Dame faced rains, and both physical and mental adversity from opponents and logistics, as momentum shifted to the Louisville side early in the second half. Still smarting from a loss to the Cardinals in March, the Irish never doubted that tonight they were going to win the game, never forgot their training, and seized the victory that eluded them seven weeks ago.
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.