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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

Entenmann guides Irish to 16-9 Senior Day win over North Carolina

Gabriel Zarazua
Gabriel Zarazua

On Saturday afternoon, the freight train that is Notre Dame men’s lacrosse kept on rolling. The No. 1 Irish used a strong start and equally strong finish to defeat No. 14 North Carolina 16-9 in their final regular season home game. The Senior Day victory was Notre Dame’s third straight by at least five goals, and it improved their record to 9-1 (3-1 ACC), while the Tar Heels fell to 7-6 (1-4 ACC).

Earlier this week, three Irish players were named among the 25 nominees for the Tewaaraton Award, more than any other team. All three played significant roles in Saturday’s win, showing why they’re under consideration for national player of the year honors.

Sophomore attack Chris Kavanagh scored a pair of early goals to push his team-leading total to 33. He added a third-quarter assist that helped end a North Carolina scoring run.

Pat Kavanagh, the nation’s leader in points and assists per game, continued to serve as the Irish’s top playmaker. The senior attacker set his teammates up with three assists, in addition to scoring a goal himself.

Both players made key contributions defensively as well, putting constant backfield pressure on Tar Heel players attempting to clear the ball. Pat forced three North Carolina turnovers in the first quarter alone.

But on a day when 10 different goal scorers contributed to Notre Dame’s balanced attack, the Irish’s biggest star was senior goalie Liam Entenmann. Following a 15-save effort in a win against then-No. 1 Duke, he recorded a season-high 16 on Saturday, marking his eighth straight game in double digits.

North Carolina had more shots on goal than the Irish but was prevented from capitalizing on those opportunities by Entenmann’s strong effort. To Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan, it was the type of performance expected from one of the best goalies in the country.

“Liam played really well. He was very poised. He’s making the saves he needs to make, and then he steals some. He was handling the ball and directing our clear and did a nice job with that,” Corrigan said after the game. “He’s playing like an All-American.”

That performance in goal, coupled with a strong offensive start, helped the Irish jump out to a 6-1 first-quarter advantage. Their opening score came from junior face-off specialist Colin Hagstrom, who rebounded a missed shot to score his first career goal. The Tar Heels quickly answered with a goal of their own and the score remained 1-1 for more than six minutes.

The Irish scoring drought was ended by senior attack Jake Taylor. He spun past a defender and showed impressive awareness to quickly glance at the expiring shot clock before finding the back of the net with just seconds remaining. That goal was the first of five straight in the period for Notre Dame. The last came from Hagstrom again, marking the second of his career as well as of the quarter.

But after Chris Kavanagh started the second by putting the Irish up 7-1, Notre Dame underwent another long scoreless streak, this time for more than 11 minutes. While the Tar Heels started to find their rhythm, the Irish committed a string of unforced errors, uncharacteristic for a team that entered the game ranked third nationally in fewest turnovers per game.

Notre Dame ceded five turnovers in the second quarter, and eight total in the first half. This helped North Carolina trim the deficit from six to just two. After the game had appeared headed for blowout territory, the Irish went into halftime holding a narrow 7-5 advantage.

“We knew those were the types of plays that we couldn’t let them have,” head coach Corrigan said about the easy Tar Heel scoring opportunities that Notre Dame’s mistake-prone plays allowed. “And yet, we created some of those plays with bad decision making on our part.”

That trend wouldn’t continue, as the Irish came out of the break looking more like their usual selves. They had no turnovers in the third quarter and just two in the fourth, and Corrigan was pleased with his team’s ability to limit mistakes.

“Luckily, we kind our gathered our poise and didn’t continue that,” he said.

With that poise, Notre Dame didn’t need long to regain control of the game. The Irish outscored North Carolina 4-1 in the third quarter before starting the fourth with a separate 4-1 stretch. When the dust settled, they had extended their lead to 15-7.

Notre Dame’s scoring run came amid faceoff dominance from North Carolina. The Tar Heels won 13 of 15 faceoffs in the second half, and 20 of 30 overall. The Irish were able to make up the possession deficit through strong execution on both ends and by having a slight edge on the ground ball battle, which has been a strength for the team all season.

“It starts with toughness and wanting the ball, but it’s also awareness. It’s also an IQ for where the ball is going to be,” Corrigan said about Notre Dame’s ground ball success. “Our guys have been pretty good on that all year. It’s something you have to be good at if you’re going to be a great team.”

After North Carolina scored a pair of quick goals, Pat Kavanagh fed sophomore attacker Jeffery Ricciardelli for an Irish goal with under five minutes remaining. That would end up being the final score in Notre Dame’s 16-9 victory.

With the win, Notre Dame’s seniors and graduate students ended their regular season Arlotta Stadium playing careers on a high note. They even got a final taste of vintage South Bend weather, as periods of sunshine alternated with brief doses of a heavy wintry mix throughout the game.

Corrigan spoke about the veteran leadership that has guided the Irish through one of the best seasons in program history.

“We’ve said all year that our leadership from those seniors and the fifth-year guys has been fantastic, as good as I’ve been around,” Corrigan said. “For them to play their last regular season game here and get a big win is huge and well-deserved because they’ve been in front of our group the whole time. [They’ve been] doing a great job.”

Their work this season is far from over, as the top-ranked Irish will close out their schedule with a pair of ACC rematches on the road before beginning what they hope will be a long postseason run.

Notre Dame will travel to Charlottesville next Sunday for the chance to avenge their earlier defeat against Virginia. That will be followed by another matchup with North Carolina, this time in Chapel Hill. The Irish likely need a pair of wins to stay in the hunt for an ACC title and the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.