April 27, 2014

Notre Dame Avoids Selection Stress; Locks Up ACC AQ

by Justin Feil | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

In-Game Blog Replay


 Nick Ossello had a goal and two assists in addition to his face-off duties for the Irish in their win over Syracuse. (Kevin P. Tucker)

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CHESTER, Pa. — Notre Dame can put away the antacids it had stocked up for NCAA tournament selection day.

The fourth-seeded Fighting Irish still could have taken one in the fourth quarter as third-seeded Syracuse chipped away at its lead before Notre Dame held on for a 15-14 win in the ACC Championship final at PPL Park on Sunday afternoon. With the win, Notre Dame (8-5) receives the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan. “I thought our guys played with so much courage and fearlessness this weekend. We didn’t play tentatively like a team that’s not sure what’s going to happen to them. We just went out and played like a team that’s going to go out and do everything it can to win games.”

Notre Dame hovered just above .500 when the weekend began, but avenged two of its regular-season losses on its way to its first ACC title.

“When you’re in your seventh quarter in the last three weeks against a team, you should have some success,” Corrigan said. “You really should – not start to figure them out – but get more comfortable with the decisions that you’re going to have to make. You still have to make them against their excellent players and they’re very good at seeing what you’re doing.”

The final matched two first-year ACC teams after Syracuse (10-4) edged Duke and Notre Dame knocked out top-seeded Maryland in Friday’s ACC semifinal matchups. Both had won on last-second goals, and there was plenty of energy from both teams in the final.

“I thought our guys played the whole weekend with a lot of moxy, just made tough plays, were unafraid,” Corrigan said. “We scored goals a lot of ways over the course of this weekend. That’s something we’ve prided ourselves on all year and it certainly paid off this weekend.”

Matt Kavanagh, the game’s Most Valuable Player, did not start the final for disciplinary reasons that Corrigan did not elaborate on afterward, but finished with four goals and two assists. Conor Doyle had two goals and three assists. Jim Marlatt had three goals and an assist, and Nick Ossello, in addition to taking faceoffs, finished with a goal and two assists.

“We knew we could score that many goals,” Kavanagh said. “We scored them so many different ways – on the man-up, transition from Jack Near and other D middies coming up, even settled 6-on-6, faceoffs we were battling on the wings. We scored in so many different ways, so it’s hard to stop every part of the game.”

Syracuse had called its 11-10 win over Notre Dame on Mar. 29 its finest defensive effort of the season, but the Orange had trouble containing the Notre Dame attack in their second meeting.

“Their offense, frankly, we didn’t expect them to score that many goals today,” said Syracuse coach John Desko. “I was impressed with the way they played. They played like they really wanted it.”

Syracuse’s Randy Staats had five goals, Kevin Rice had a goal and six assists, Nicky Galasso had two goals and an assists and Derek Maltz had two goals and an assist to highlight the Orange offense. It was the first time that they lost this season in five one-goal games, and they had a chance to tie it when Rice came around the cage but was turned away from Notre Dame goalie Conor Kelly, who ran the final four seconds off the clock.

“It was kind of déjà vu of Friday night,” said Kelly, who finished with nine saves. “We were tied Friday, but up one (Sunday), we knew they were going to get a shot off and I just try to be ready for it when it’s coming because they can score in a lot of different ways. I just try to stay ready for everything.”

The teams were tied, 7-7, at halftime in a back-and-forth affair when Notre Dame exploded in the third quarter. After a Syracuse goal opened the half, the Fighting Irish scored six straight goals, including two from Kavanagh and two from Marlatt to build a 13-8 lead.

“I think in the first game, I wasn’t really recognizing the second slide coming from behind,” Kavanagh said. “I was really aware today of moving it and not holding onto it, and picking my spots when it was a good time to go. We had a really good two-man game with the short sticks, so I guess (Syracuse defender Brandon Mullins) got kind of confused on some. I tried to attack in good situations.”

The offensive efficiency helped the Notre Dame defense hold Syracuse scoreless for nearly 14 minutes in the run and the Fighting Irish ended the third quarter with a 14-9 lead. Syracuse got five goals from four different players in the fourth quarter, and Scott Loy’s bullet cut the Syracuse deficit one goal with still 2:02 left. They never got the equalizer as Kelly made a pair of saves. Syracuse is 1-4 this year when trailing heading into the fourth quarter.

“We fell a goal short but I thought they’re goalie made a great save for a last shot there,” Desko said. “I thought he played well all day.”

Desko started Bobby Wardwell, who had eight saves in the second half in the ACC semifinal, for the first time this season. He turned to regular starter Dominic Lamolinara to start the fourth quarter and the senior goalie allowed just one goal and made a pair of saves, including a breakaway to give the Orange a chance to come back.

“It was just a slugfest,” Corrigan said. “If you watch Syracuse this weekend, they’re like the Terminator. You just can’t kill them. You think they’re dead. You’ve shot them, and there they are again, right on your tail again. So I give them a lot of credit.”

Both Notre Dame and Syracuse have one regular-season game left in preparation for the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame will host Army on Saturday while the Orange host Colgate.

Since the ACC Championship began in 1989, four ACC champions have gone on to win the NCAA Championship. Notre Dame would like to be the next after putting together its best back-to-back showings of the season.

“We try not to talk about any result as a snapshot,” Corrigan said. “It’s all part of a continuum of the season and we feel like we’ve been improving. We’ve been talking about that our results haven’t always reflected how well we think we’ve played at times. But it also did reflect we need to get better and make more plays.

“We’ll take this just like we do every game, take the good and take the bad and hopefully be a better team Monday and Tuesday because of what we saw this weekend.”

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