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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

4, 20240303, Arlottta Stadium, Colin Hagstrom, Meghan Lange, Men's Lacrosse, University of Maryland.jpg

Irish use strong first half to take down No. 3 Syracuse in ACC opener

No. 1 Notre Dame earns a crucial 14-12 win over the Orange

This week, Notre Dame men’s lacrosse rose to No. 1 in the national rankings on the heels of a three-game winning streak. On Saturday afternoon, the defending national champion Irish ensured they’ll retain that spot with a signature 14-12 victory over No. 3 Syracuse to open conference play.

The atmosphere for the Easter weekend matchup at Arlotta Stadium was electric from the opening faceoff, with an over-capacity crowd enjoying near-perfect weather conditions for the high-profile ACC duel.

The Orange — having won five straight games, including a 10-4 thrashing of then-No. 3 Duke — came to South Bend as the hottest team in the country. They got on the scoreboard first less than two minutes into the opening quarter.

But it didn’t take Notre Dame’s NCAA-leading scoring offense long to erase the early deficit. Irish graduate student midfielder Reilly Gray tallied his fourth goal of the season to level the score and added another just minutes later. The Irish made it three in a row with six minutes remaining in the quarter on a diving goal from junior midfielder Ben Ramsey.

Goals from unexpected scorers like Gray and Ramsey — who was recently tabbed as a Midseason All-American by Inside Lacrosse but had yet to score a goal this season entering Saturday’s game — set the tone for what would be a balanced offensive effort that showcased Notre Dame’s impressive depth.

Despite the team’s four leading scorers combining for just five goals, the Irish attack was still effective against the nation’s third-best scoring defense. Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan praised the selflessness of his team’s stars postgame.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who can score and make plays for us,” Corrigan said. “On any given day, I’d like to think that the play of the game determines who’s going to score, not one of our guys forcing his way to the front of the line. So when we’re at our best, that’s what we do. We share the ball, our best players are unbelievably unselfish, and so the ball finds the right guy and that’s how it was today.”

Goalkeeping play was a major storyline entering the game, with Notre Dame graduate student Liam Entenmann and Syracuse’s Will Mark considered by many to be the nation’s top two goalies. With scoring opportunities at a premium, maintaining control of possession proved critical, and Irish junior faceoff specialist Will Lynch helped Notre Dame do just that.

Lynch won the game’s first five faceoffs and didn’t let up, finishing the afternoon 19 of 26 while also scoring a goal himself. After Syracuse leveled the score at 3-3, Lynch sparked another string of three straight Irish goals to close out the first quarter with Notre Dame leading 6-3.

Corrigan spoke about the impact of Lynch, who has won the faceoff matchup in six of the Irish’s seven games this season.

“Their goalie’s terrific and so is ours,” Corrigan said. “Extra possessions mean a lot in a game where both guys are making you really earn your goals, and so for us to not just win the possessions [but to] get a goal out of the faceoff play as well, huge day for Will Lynch.”

The second period was largely a back-and-forth affair, with both teams trading goals to make the score 8-5 in Notre Dame’s favor as halftime approached.

But with 59 seconds remaining in the half, junior attacker Chris Kavanagh found the back of the net after being set up by senior midfielder Eric Dobson. Lynch won the ensuing faceoff and scored just four seconds later to give Notre Dame a 10-5 lead at the break.

End-of-quarter execution provided a decisive advantage for the Irish in the first half. Notre Dame finished the first quarter on a 3-0 run and added two more scores in the final minute of the second. Those five goals represented the entirety of their halftime lead and put the Irish firmly in the driver’s seat heading into the second half.

“We practice those situations and we talk about how important the last three minutes of a quarter are because they set a tone for the next quarter,” Corrigan said about the Irish’s late-quarter play. “I thought that was big today.”

Both offenses came out of the break swinging. Within the first four minutes of the third quarter, Syracuse trimmed their deficit to four before Irish graduate student attacker and leading scorer Jake Taylor brought it back to six with a pair of goals just over a minute apart.

But with the Irish leading 12-6, scoring began to slow, with both defenses consistently creating turnovers and forcing difficult shot attempts. Notre Dame finished the game with a season-high 13 caused turnovers. Three of those came from graduate student defender Chris Conlin, who also secured a career-best seven ground balls and seemed to have a sixth sense for where the ball would be throughout the afternoon.

The Irish defense was also bolstered by the impressive play of freshman defender Shawn Lyght, who was given the challenging assignment of marking Syracuse star Joey Spallina, the nation’s leader in points and assists entering the game. Spallina was limited to just a single goal and no assists on Saturday, and Corrigan highlighted the efforts of Conlin and Lyght.

“[Conlin] was amazing today, his stick had a magnet in it. He kept finding the ball and knocking it down or picking it up,” Corrigan said. “And Shawn Lyght just guarded the heck out of [Spallina] and didn’t give him any breathing room. So between the two of those guys, great performance by them.”

Notre Dame held a seemingly comfortable 13-7 lead entering the fourth, but a team as talented as Syracuse could only be stifled for so long. The Orange rattled off three unanswered goals and suddenly held all the momentum while facing a far more manageable three-goal deficit.

But just as he often did during last year’s national title run en route to being named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament, Entenmann stepped up at a key moment to quell the Syracuse run.

With under 10 minutes to play and the Orange looking to get within two scores while playing with a man-up advantage, Entenmann made what may have been the save of the year (and was SportsCenter’s No. 1 play), diving across the crease and blocking a shot from point-blank range with his stick.

“No question about it,” Corrigan said when asked if Entenmann’s save changed the course of the game. “They were coming on, putting pressure on us, and they earned that layup with good man-up ball movement, and he just took it away from them. Phenomenal.”

Shortly after Entenmann’s stunning save turned the tides back in Notre Dame’s favor, a Dobson goal stretched the Irish lead back to four and helped snuff out the Orange’s late comeback attempt.

“The biggest thing is [that] our guys kept getting off the mat. Every time [Syracuse] put some pressure on us, our guys got up off the mat and made plays,” Corrigan said. “That was a little bit of our theme for the day: ‘If they push us down, don’t get held down. Get back up and let’s get back to playing.’ And that’s what we did, so really proud of our guys for that.”

Syracuse added two more scores in the final minutes, but it was a case of too little, too late for the visitors as Notre Dame emerged from the heavyweight bout as 14-12 victors.

Saturday’s win continued the Irish’s recent stretch of success against Syracuse. Notre Dame (6-1, 1-0 ACC) has now defeated the Orange (9-3, 1-1 ACC) seven straight times and won 10 of their last 12 meetings.

The marquee matchups will continue for the Irish as they move into the final third of the regular season. On Sunday, they’ll travel to Durham for a rematch of last year’s national title game with Duke.

“We’ve just got to keep worrying about ourselves, we’re not going to get too caught up in our opponent until the time comes to get caught up in that,” Corrigan said about the Irish’s mentality moving forward. “So we’ve got about three days here where we get to rest and recover and get focused on ourselves so that then, in the middle of the week, we can go back and start to worry about Duke and the challenges they bring.”