May 29, 2010

Great Scott! Rodgers Carries Irish to Final

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff


* Great Scott! Rodgers Carries Irish to Final
* Notre Dame's Defense Not Sexy -- Just Solid
* Dugan's Return Is Irish's Lucky Charm
* Cornell's Weapons Silenced in Loss
* NCAA Championships Blog

The first rule of Project Mayhem: don't ask questions.

* MD1 Tournament Central
* WD1 Tournament Central

Scott Rodgers, still nursing a torn hamstring that forced him to miss significant action in the middle of the season, nonetheless continued his postseason heroics with 16 saves in Notre Dame's 12-7 win over Cornell in the NCAA semifinals Saturday.

BALTIMORE, Md. -- Less than a half hour after carrying the Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team on his broad shoulders to its first-ever NCAA Division I championship game, Scott Rodgers emerged from the Irish locker room donning a pinstriped suit, ducked through the doorway and was immediately flanked by a throng of reporters in the bowels of M&T Bank Stadium.

Yeah, he’s a man-child. But on Saturday, the 6-foot-4, 254-pound goalie was simply the man.

Rodgers put forth an effort to match his mass with 16 saves – including eight during a testy first quarter – to lead the unseeded Irish to a 12-7 victory over seventh-seeded Cornell in the first of two NCAA semifinals Saturday.

Attackman Neal Hicks scored four goals and midfielder Zach Brenneman -- no slouch at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds – netted a hat trick in the victory.

Cornell’s star attackmen, Rob Pannell (2a) and Ryan Hurley (2g, 1a), were mostly neutralized by Rodgers and the disciplined defense in front of him. Steve Mock had three goals for the Big Red.

“I’ve been coaching 30 years,” Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan said. “When goalies play well, guys shoot worse.”

Hulking over those reporters, Rodgers hinted that he has still not entirely recovered from the torn hamstring that plagued him midseason.

“It was not off the bone, but the MRI showed it was torn,” he said.

Asked how he felt Saturday, Rodgers replied, “Old. I feel like I’m 50. I feel like I’m going to fall apart.”

He could have fooled Cornell.

“Sixteen saves on the day,” Pannell said, shaking his head. “It’s a credit to him and the defense in front of him.”

Rodgers’ spry performance between the pipes certainly didn’t indicate any lingering effects of the injury, sustained in a March 27 loss to Rutgers – the first of three straight losses that dropped Notre Dame to 5-5.

“If we were in Baltimore, that would have been front-page news,” said Irish assistant coach Gerry Byrne, the defensive coordinator. “But I’m not going to call up the media to tell guys, ‘Hey, this is why we’re not playing well.’”

Rodgers’ injury forced freshman John Kemp, whom Notre Dame had planned to red-shirt, into action. Rodgers attempted to come back against Georgetown (an 11-8 loss on April 11), but was pulled. He didn’t resume full-time goalkeeping duties until April 24 against St. John’s.

The Irish got into the NCAA tournament as an at-large selection on the strength of early-season wins over Duke and Loyola. They’ve since made the selection committee look smart, reeling off three straight tournament upsets of Princeton, Maryland and Cornell – all boasting high-powered offenses that Notre Dame’s defense nullified.

Against the Big Red, the Irish made it a point to push out on the perimeter and recover quickly on their slides.

“We said ‘Let’s challenge them,’” Corrigan said. “Let them take those 14-yard shots to try to beat us. They’re not going to.”

The Big Red struck first on Roy Lang’s goal at the 13:33 mark of the first quarter, but Rodgers shut the door from there. His eight first-quarter saves buoyed the Irish, who were slow to get untracked.

Sean Rogers got Notre Dame on the board with 2:54 remaining, finishing a crease feed from Colin Igoe. Hicks gave the Irish its first lead on a goal assisted by Rogers a little over a minute later.

Notre Dame then got a jolt of momentum from Rodgers, who stuffed a fancy backhand by Pannell low with less than a minute remaining. The Irish caught Cornell napping in transition, and defensive middie Adam Felicetti finished on the other end with six seconds remaining in the first quarter to put Notre Dame ahead 3-1.

The Irish stretched their lead to three in the second quarter. It would remain a three-goal lead until the fourth quarter, when the Irish blew it open on a Big Red team that in its desperation for possessions pulled goalie AJ Fiore out of the cage for double-team purposes.

Cornell outshot Notre Dame, 40-32, won 12 of 23 faceoffs, garnered 39 ground balls to the Irish’s 31 and committed fewer turnovers.

The difference was Rodgers – and the defense in front of him, namely Kevin Ridgway, Kevin Randall and Mike Creighton.

“They make me look good,” Rodgers said with a chuckle. “But I make them look good too.”

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