May 21, 2012

Notre Dame Responds After Foley Injury to Down Virginia

by Gary Lambrecht | | Live Blog Replay

Notre Dame midfielder Max Pfeifer led the Irish with a season-high three goals Sunday in its 12-10 win over defending champion Virginia.
© Kevin P. Tucker

CHESTER, Pa. – As Notre Dame junior midfielder Ryan Foley lay still on the field, in front of a hushed crowd and his angry teammates, the Fighting Irish regrouped on their sideline. In the middle of a close, NCAA tournament quarterfinal battle, Notre Dame was about to respond in a way that would stagger and ultimately dethrone Virginia.

Sparked by a decisive, four-goal run that began with Foley's score and was fueled by the sight of Foley lying on the turf for nearly 10 minutes – the result of a shot to the head by Virginia defenseman Scott McWilliams – No. 4 seed Notre Dame used its offensive depth and defensive discipline to put away No. 5 seed Virginia, 12-10, before 10,770 at PPL Park.

By eliminating the defending national champions and ending the career of Virginia superstar attackman Steele Stanwick, who went out with a five-assist, seven-point gem, Notre Dame (13-2) is moving on to its second final four appearance in three years and its third NCAA tournament semifinal overall.

The winner of Saturday's game between Notre Dame and top-seeded Loyola at Gillette Stadium will go after its first Division I championship on Memorial Day against the winner of the Duke-Maryland semifinal. The Irish lost to Duke in overtime in the 2010 title game.

"For the seniors, everybody is in a very sentimental, this-is-our-last-moment [kind of mood]. To be able to get back to the final four and stay alive means everything," said senior midfielder Max Pfeifer, who led the Irish with a season-high three goals. "As a team, this is our final goal. We're very happy to get back there."

It was a triumph built by an Irish team showing its depth at the right time on offense combined with a defense – led by probable first-team All-American John Kemp (14 saves) – that has formed the program's foundation under 24-year head coach Kevin Corrigan.

The Irish simply wore out Virginia (12-4). Nowhere was that more evident than the play of Notre Dame's second midfield, which hurt the Cavaliers with three goals and four assists and highlighted a three-midfield rotation that pounded away at Virginia, which used just 20 players and relied on its front-line defense heavily.

Senior attackman Sean Rogers added two goals, and the second midfield unit pretty much stole the show after that, starting with Steve Murphy (two goals, two assists). Senior Eric Keppeler added a goal and an assist, while junior backup middie Tyler Kimball had an assist.

But the defining moment for Notre Dame came after the scariest moment of the contest. It began with Foley stepping around a pick and burying a 13-yard shot from dead center to give Notre Dame a 9-8 with 7:41 left in the game. Following the shot, McWilliams blasted Foley, who crumpled to the turf. Play was stopped for nearly 10 minutes, while Foley was examined and taken off the field on a stretcher, and eventually to a local hospital.

As the emotions stewed on the Notre Dame sideline, Foley was carried past the stands behind the Irish bench, en route to an ambulance. Twice, he raised an arm and gave the thumbs-up sign, eliciting huge cheers from players and fans.

"We were pretty hot-headed," Murphy said. "But we kind of re-focused and said let's beat them on the field and send them home. That will be more of a slap in the face than retaliating."

"It was a huge goal for two reasons," said Corrigan, who added Foley was never unconscious and was expected to travel back to South Bend with the team after preliminary tests were favorable. (The team said Sunday night Foley was "doing fine" and indeed flew back with the team.)

"One, it was a big goal on its own. Two, our guys got a little fired up. But they understood if we let that distract us or we junk it up, it could really hurt us. The best thing we could do to retaliate was to win the game."

The Irish, who had played a brutal, scoreless third quarter on offense, yet had only allowed two goals to remain tied at 6-6 with the Cavs, then made their statement with three more goals.

After Irish defenseman Stephen O'Hara picked off a Virginia pass near the crease, Keppeler, with an assist from Murphy, nailed a 12-yarder to make it 10-8 with 4:13 left. Forty-eight seconds later, Rogers sprinted from behind the net and beat goalie Rob Fortunato (eight saves) on the crease to make it 11-8.

Then, after a loose-ball battle with Fortunato in front of the Virginia net, Pfeifer completed his first hat trick of the year by flipping in a five-yarder, as Fortunato leveled him at the 1:36 mark.

Stanwick, who already is Virginia's career scoring leader and became only the second, single-season, 50-assist man on Sunday, tried to rally the Cavs with a goal and an assist in the game's final 90 seconds. But Kemp stuffed attackman Chris Bocklet (two goals) with eight seconds left. With that, Virginia was done.

"Notre Dame is an interesting group. They play three midfields, and there is an old joke in the game that if you have three midfields, you probably don't have a first midfield," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said.

"They get production from a lot of guys. There were chances for them to crack in this game, but they kept coming at us. They're a patient, well-coached team. They're disciplined at both ends of the field. [This loss] kind of epitomized our season. We were just a little bit off. It never was easy."

The game featured four ties and only a brief lead by Virginia, which took a 4-3 advantage on a 14-yard bullet by midfielder Rob Emery (two goals) with 9:08 left in the first half. But Pfeifer, Rogers and Murphy answered over the next seven minutes to give the Irish a 6-4 lead at halftime.

Twice, Virginia rallied to tie the Irish. Twice, Notre Dame answered. And there was Kemp, making nine, second-half saves to close the door on the Cavs and turn out the lights on Stanwick, who made his exit with a brilliant performance.

"It's been a great run," Stanwick said. "I don't think I could have picked a better spot or played at a better school. I wouldn't change one thing about my career here."

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