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Saturday, May 25, 2024
The Observer

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Irish march past early slog, set up quarterfinal rematch with Georgetown

Notre Dame headed back to the national quarterfinals after an unexpectedly stingy win

Given how last weekend's ACC Tournament went down, Notre Dame men's lacrosse must have been due for a game like Sunday's. At halftime of their first NCAA Tournament game, the top-seeded Irish trailed Albany 5-4. They had committed 11 turnovers — eighth of them unforced. The Kavanagh brothers had combined for just two assists. Unfocused, sloppy play had infected a team that just seven days before had looked the part of an unstoppable machine in the ACC Championship. As the game's midway point hit, the eyes of the lacrosse world descended on Arlotta Stadium and wondered, ”What's going on with Notre Dame?”

The Irish put that question to bed in a hurry.

Within nine minutes of the second half starting, Notre Dame had equaled its first-half scoring total with four goals in rapid succession. After another three-goal run carried the Irish into the fourth quarter, they closed the book on a 14-9 win in their final 2024 game in South Bend. Sunday marked Notre Dame's 11th consecutive victory and its third straight postseason win by at least five goals.

The national championship favorite opened the game in expected form, scoring just 121 seconds into the first quarter. Graduate attacker Pat Kavanagh set the table for Devon McLane, who deposited the first of his game-high four goals.

After that, however, Notre Dame scored only goal in an 18-minute span. Though graduate attacker Jake Taylor put the Irish back ahead after Ben Winner tied the game for Albany, the underdog Great Danes hung tight. More than anything else Albany did, unnecessary turnover plays held the Irish down. Through one quarter, they had committed six (though Albany had as well), leading the Great Danes to take 10 rips as graduate goalie Liam Entenmann.

The situation didn't get a whole let better for Notre Dame in the second quarter. Though the Irish broke its aforementioned scoring drought with bang-bang goals from graduate midfielders Gray and McLane, they started a new one just as quickly. Going without a goal in the final eight minutes of the first half, the Irish entered halftime with just four goals on the board at home. When was the last time that happened before Sunday? On February 25, when Notre Dame trailed Georgetown 4-3 en route to its only loss of the season.

To make matters worse, Albany used Notre Dame's slowdown to surge into a lead. With four straight goals — the last two of which came from leading scorer Ryan Doherty — the Great Danes nosed ahead of the Irish. The midpoint message from head coach Kevin Corrigan to his Irish team was simple: wake up.

Fortunately for him, Notre Dame didn't even need to hit the snooze button. Junior attacker Chris Kavanagh tied the game back up at five less than four minutes into the third quarter. Sophomore midfielder Max Busenkell followed with the go-ahead tally just 47 seconds after that. After McLane potted a seventh Irish goal for his hat trick, graduate defender Marco Napolitano played the transition game, scooping up a ground ball and finding Pat Kavanagh alone for the graduate attacker's first goal of the game. Though Graydon Hogg pulled a goal back for Albany 50 seconds later, Taylor scored, ensuring the Irish would take a 9-6 lead into the fourth quarter.

Of course, as Notre Dame had learned in the second quarter, a three-goal lead can evaporate quickly in college lacrosse. That's why the fourth-quarter performance of junior faceoff specialist Will Lynch carried so much weight. As part of an 18-for-26 day at the X, Lynch won eight of his nine faceoffs in the final 15 minutes, severely limiting Albany's opportunities to start a rally.

Still, the Irish needed to pay off Lynch's work to close out the game, and that they did. Freshman midfielder Jordan Faison scored his first goal of the game 35 seconds into the fourth quarter, and Taylor dumped in a behind-the-back finish moments later, indicating that Notre Dame's mojo had fully returned. Though Albany still garnered respect from Notre Dame with three goals in the final quarter, the Irish punched their ticket to the quarterfinal without much issue.

And who else would be waiting for the Irish in that quarterfinal but the Georgetown Hoyas. Last year, Notre Dame's toughest postseason game en route to its national championship was the one that welcomed it to Philadelphia for the Final Four — an overtime win against Virginia, the only team to beat the Irish in 2023. Now, to get to Philadelphia for a second consecutive Final Four, they must once again avenge their only loss of the season.

Georgetown's 11-10, overtime win in South Bend in February is the only reason Notre Dame hasn't gone wire-to-wire atop the Inside Lacrosse rankings. With their loss to the 19th-ranked Hoyas, the Irish dropped from No. 1 to No. 6 before returning to their throne near the end of March.

This coming Saturday, the Irish can saddle Georgetown with a much harsher punishment: the offseason. But the Hoyas come in with fervor and momentum. They overcame a 7-2 deficit in their first-round victory over No. 9 Penn State on Sunday afternoon, outscoring the Nittany Lions 5-0 in the fourth quarter. Overall, Georgetown sits at 13-3 on the season and has won five straight games, including the Big East Championship

Notre Dame and Georgetown will play on Saturday at a neutral site — James Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, New York — located on Long Island. As of Sunday night, the time of the game had not yet been announced.