March 16, 2014

Quick-Strike Irish Control Possession to Beat Virginia

by Matthew DeFranks | | Twitter

Sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh put in four goals as the Irish offense scored in bunches in an 18-9 win over visiting Virginia on Sunday. (TD Paulius)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The recipe for success was easy for Notre Dame during its 18-9 win over Virginia on Sunday night.

Score. Win the faceoff. Repeat.

Sprinkle in some balanced scoring and a solid game from freshman goalkeeper Shane Doss and the Irish (3-2, 2-0 ACC) were poised to cook up a win over the Cavaliers (6-2, 1-1) indoors at Loftus Sports Center.

Senior faceoff specialist Liam O'Connor went 19-for-24 at the X and chipped in a goal, an assist and 11 ground balls.

"That doesn't even count the contributions he had because he made a couple of other plays," Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. "He's not just a good faceoff guy, he's a good lacrosse player."

The Irish faceoff unit entered the game leading the country in faceoff percentage (.684) and O'Connor is now 75-for-107 (.701) on the season after Sunday's performance.

"It certainly felt as if whenever they made a run at us, it was because they were controlling the ball at the faceoff and we couldn't get the ball back," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "They score and then they smell the blood in the water and they just pounced on us there."

O'Connor's play on faceoffs allowed the Irish to get quick offense on the ensuing possessions. Twelve of Notre Dame's 18 goals came less than a minute after another Irish goal. Seven of those goals came less than 30 seconds after a Notre Dame score.

"That's what facing off can do in this game," Corrigan said. "It's a huge momentum thing. If you're down and you can win faceoffs, you have a chance to come back and if you're up, you're really hard to come back against.

"When you're playing make it, take it like that, and not only winning the faceoffs but putting pressure on them possession after possession, that's tough."

O'Connor, who tied a career-high with two points Sunday, said the Irish looked for more than just possessions off of faceoffs, instead aiming to turn those transition opportunities into goals.

"Then their guys feel like they have to make a play," O'Connor said. "If they go early and have a few violations, that opens up some room for me to really power them off the ball and really use my hands and make them feel like they have to make a play."

The Irish opened up a six-goal edge late in the second quarter after senior midfielder Tyler Brenneman's tally with 6:05 capped a 5-0 run for Notre Dame. The Irish scored all five goals in 2:20.

After trailing 8-3 at halftime, Virginia closed the gap to 9-6 entering the fourth.

"I thought we played well in the third quarter, carried the play to them a little bit and it felt like we had a little momentum going into the fourth," Starsia said. "We weren't going to get it all back right away but we started chipping away but I thought we started chipping away and started working. I was really pleased with how we played there and we just let it get away from us early in the fourth and Notre Dame capitalized."

The fourth quarter was all Irish.

Notre Dame scored nine goals, including two separate 4-0 spurts, in the final period to ice its first ever home ACC win. Virginia was 1-for-5 on clears 3-for-13 on faceoffs in the fourth. They only mustered six shots against Doss in the final frame.

Doss, who was making his second career start after starting Notre Dame's loss to Denver last week, was good for the Irish in net, making nine saves.

"I thought he let a couple in today but I thought he stole a bunch," Corrigan said. "He was really, really good. Our defense was very solid."

Ten different Irish players scored and four players had multiple-goal games. Sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh scored four goals and junior midfielder Nick Ossello added three. Junior attackman Conor Doyle had three assists to go along with a goal.

"We're not a team that can rely on one guy," Corrigan said. "That's not who we are. We don't even want to rely on one aspect of the game. When we're at our best, we're scoring in transition, we're scoring some substitution, unsettled-type plays, we're scoring on 6-on-6, we're scoring off of some faceoffs.

"When you're getting contributions from all those areas of the game, that's when you're really hard to defend."

Virginia's potent pair of attackman — sophomore James Pannell and senior Mark Cockerton — came into the game with 49 goals. Cockerton scored three while Pannell was held scoreless.

"I think James had some chances," Starsia said. "I don't think he shot the ball particularly well, but they're a good defensive team."

Sunday's game was Notre Dame's fourth in a row against a ranked opponent. The Irish face Ohio State next Tuesday before facing Syracuse and Duke.

"As great as this is, this is one win in a league where the next time you tee it up, it's going to be a top-10 team," Corrigan said. "If you win or lose that one, the next time you tee it up, it's going to be a top-10 team. It's epic. You better come ready to play and you better button up because everybody plays hard in this league and everybody's talented."

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