April 29, 2016
By Leigh Torbin
BLACKSBURG, Va. - No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 4 Syracuse mostly traded goals for the first 40 minutes of their ACC women's lacrosse semifinal on Friday night at Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium, but the Orange reeled off a run of four straight goals midway through the second half to claim a 9-5 victory.
Samantha Giacolone saved nine shots for Notre Dame as the Irish defense held the Orange to just nine goals. Kiera McMullan scored twice for Notre Dame and added an assist on a slow night for the Irish offense which took only a season-low 17 shots and was out-shot (20 to 17) for just the third time in 19 games this spring.
Stephanie Toy caused three turnovers while Barbara Sullivan forced the Orange to cough the ball up twice. Casey Pearsall had a goal and an assist for Notre Dame while Grace Muller and Jenn Casadonte also scored goals for the Irish.
On the night, draw controls were even at 8-8, ground balls went 16-15 for Syracuse, shots were 20-17 for the Orange. The game was tight, but the Orange prevailed.
"At the end of the day, we had opportunities and just didn't make enough plays," Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said afterwards. "Syracuse made a couple more plays than us. Overall, I look at the stat sheet and there's a lot of close stats. It came down to putting away your opportunities, making plays and capitalizing on the other team's mistakes. They did that just a little bit better than we did."
"Five for 17 shooting is a tough day. Two hit the pipe and that matters when it's a one-goal game for so long. We would have loved to have those pipe shots go in. That would have swung momentum a little bit."
The Orange scored the game's first two goals in the opening 10 minutes before McMullan broke through on a free position shot at the 19:13 mark to make it 2-1. The next eight goals would see an alternating pattern as the Orange kept extending its lead to two goals and the Irish kept cutting it down to a single strike, including a 4-3 margin at halftime.
True to this trend, Syracuse's Riley Donahue scored the first goal of the second half but it was countered by Muller, making it a 5-4 game with 23:48 left to play. Syracuse's Nicole Levy tallied the next goal of the game on a free position shot, but the alternating goals ceased. The Orange scored four in a row to go up 9-4 with Casadonte's strike off of a nifty feed from McMullan with 7:03 to play accounting for the 9-5 final.
The Irish did not get over the top to advance to the program's first ACC championship game, but still it was a valiant effort for Notre Dame which had finished its quarterfinal game against No. 8 Louisville, a 12-10 win, just before midnight on Thursday evening - contest which began an hour late and suffered a 1:17 lightning delay and venue relocation due to the rains.
"On the whole, the ACC tournament could be harder than the NCAA final four," Halfpenny said. "You go back-to-back on with top 10 RPI teams. You face one after the other and, for us, it was about a 19-hour turnaround. We had a great opportunity to get tournament-ready against two teams that are going to be playing in the NCAA tournament."
Notre Dame finds out the specifics on its NCAA regionals site and opponents on at 9 p.m. on May 8. Notre Dame entered the weekend ranked No. 6 in the RPI in addition tot he coaches' poll as it vies to be one of the eight schools which host competition the opening weekend.
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.