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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame falls to Duke in NCAA championship

BALTIMORE – In a thrilling and ultimately heartbreaking national championship game that went down to the wire, No. 6 seed Notre Dame’s epic rally fell short against top-seeded Duke on Monday, as the Irish lost to the Blue Devils, 11-9.

After falling behind, 8-2, with 6:40 left in the third quarter at M&T Bank Stadium, the Irish (12-6, 2-3 ACC) stormed back to come within one goal of the Blue Devils (17-3, 4-1), outscoring Duke, 6-3, down the stretch. In the end, it was not enough to make up for a poor first half in which the Irish scored one goal and managed just nine shots.

“[We] just played 30 minutes of poor lacrosse to start the game, and … I don’t know what to attribute that to,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. “We thought all along that the last 20 minutes of the game were going to be where the game was decided. We knew we were deeper, we knew we would be stronger in the last 20 minutes, and we were — we just came up a play or two short.”

Notre Dame’s offensive attack was led by freshman midfielder Sergio Perkovic, who scored a career-high five goals, all of which came in the second half.

“It was about the second practice of the year when I turned to our coaches and said, he may be the best player we've ever had, so he's no surprise to me because I've been watching him since September, and I think he's going to be one of the absolute stars in college lacrosse for the next three years because he's terrifically talented,” Corrigan said of Perkovic.

Sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh, the team’s leading scorer, added two goals and an assist, which gave him 75 points on the season, a program record. The Irish offense averaged 11.33 goals in the NCAA and ACC tournaments.

“We really found our stride [on offense] around the ACC tournament,” Kavanagh said. “We continued to work hard in practice every day, not taking days off, knowing that it could be our last week. We just had to trust in everyone that was on the field. [I] couldn’t be more proud of my teammates.”

While the offense struggled early, junior goalkeeper Conor Kelly kept the Irish in the game, collecting six saves in the first half and allowing just five goals on 16 shots. Notre Dame entered halftime down, 5-1, but the team was sure that it could rally, Kavanagh said.

“We’ve been in that situation before,” he said. “That’s why we had so much confidence. We were just one play away.”

Notre Dame made a similar comeback attempt against Albany in the NCAA quarterfinals, trailing, 12-7, with 11:49 remaining before rallying to force overtime.

“I thought the last 20 minutes of the game went just … like we hoped it would go for the most part,” Corrigan said. “We just didn’t get enough points on the board before that.”

After scoring four unanswered goals to tighten the game to 8-6 with 11 minutes remaining, Notre Dame traded goals with Duke before Perkovic added his fourth score of the afternoon to bring the Irish within one with five minutes to go. After the Blue Devils scored once more, Perkovic gave the Irish an extra lease on life with a blast from the outside with only 49 seconds left.

On the ensuing faceoff, Blue Devils senior midfielder Brendan Fowler won the draw against Irish senior midfielder Liam O’Connor, essentially sealing the game for Duke. After the game, Corrigan said he thought there was “no question” that Fowler had moved early on the faceoff and should have been called for a violation but added that he “wasn’t the guy with the whistle.” Duke coach John Danowski declined to comment on the play.

The Irish were forced to go to an empty net in a last-ditch effort to force a turnover, but Duke senior attackman Jordan Wolf held onto the ball and scored to put the game completely out of reach with 23 seconds left. Wolf, who ended the contest with two goals and four assists and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, set Duke’s program record with 103 points on the season and is a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, given annually to the top player in college lacrosse.

“He’s a special player,” Kelly said of Wolf. “I played him a bunch growing up in the [Philadelphia] area. He’s one of the best.”

“I think [Wolf] is the best attackman in the nation,” Duke junior attackman Kyle Keenan said. “I’m honored and humbled to play with him every day.”

With the victory, Duke becomes just the sixth program in NCAA history to win consecutive titles. In addition, this championship is the Blue Devils’ third in five years.

“[Danowski] does a great job of nurturing a team and getting them to play their best at the end of the year,” Corrigan said. “They’re very talented, very well-coached, and they’re doing a terrific job.”

Already, the Irish are looking ahead to next year, as they will return seven of 10 starters, including second-team All-American Kavanagh and honorable mention All-American midfielder Jack Near.

“This team has been one play away the past couple years, and we know that,” Kelly said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys coming back in our locker room, but we’re going to miss the seniors and their leadership and the example they set.”