May 26, 2014

Dynamic Run for Kavanagh, Irish Falls Short in Final

by Paul Krome | | Twitter | May Madness Home

The Duke Defense made it tough going for Matt Kavanagh and the Notre Dame offense, which took until late in the third quarter before finding its legs and nearly rallying to tie the Blue Devils before falling 11-9. (Bill Danielewski)

BALTIMORE – With 11:18 to play in Monday's NCAA championship game and the officials reporting a pushing penalty on Duke's Will Haus, Notre Dame's diminutive attackman Matt Kavanagh gathered linemates John Scioscia and Eddy Lubowicki for a huddle in the attack zone. The Fighting Irish trailed the Blue Devils, 8-5, and a goal would be the Domers' fourth straight and give serious legs to their comeback effort.

The conference may have been part leadership from Kavanagh — a 2012 U.S. U19 team gold medalist and second-team All-American this season — and part necessity, thanks to hulking, 6-foot-4 All-American Duke defenseman Henry Lobb.

"I was getting shut off a little bit throughout the game," Kavanagh, who stands 5-foot-8, said. "I wasn't really getting any touches or getting into the flow of the offense. It's a credit to their scheme. But we battled back."

The once-laugher of a final became a battle, as Kavanagh quickly traded passes with Lubowicki on the right side before he fed surging freshman midfielder Sergio Perkovic up top for the extra-man goal, cutting Duke's lead to two. The assist marked Kavanagh's 75th point on the season and set a school record for same.

"We've been in that situation before. That's why we had so much confidence. We were just one play away," Kavanagh said.

He would certainly know, having sent his squad to M&T Bank Stadium in the first place with his game-winning goal in overtime of a 14-13, come-from-behind heartstopper over Albany in the quarterfinals. Unlike that game, however, the Fighting Irish never made the play to tie the game. The 11-9 defeat came largely thanks to offensive struggles and 11 first-half turnovers.

"Just kind of inexplicable turnovers for us, not the kind of thing we've been doing," said head coach Kevin Corrigan.

The loss dampened an otherwise bright season for Kavanagh, who tied or set multiple school records. He was, however, shut down by Lobb in a 15-7 regular-season home loss to Duke in South Bend, Ind., on April 5. Both made the all-tournament team here.

"That was the game plan — make it hard for him to get the ball, crowd him and kind of pressure him," Lobb said. "So I think that's what we did."

Kavanagh definitely had to pick his spots. Already limited midway through the second quarter and trailing 3-0, Notre Dame sent freshman midfielder Ben Pridemore to screen for Kavanagh, who had the ball on the right wing. Pridemore slipped the screen twice, and both Lobb and Haus went with him the second time as Kavanagh stepped back to create space. He got a rare, clean look and put Notre Dame on the board with 8:05 before halftime.

"I was getting shut off a little bit throughout the game. I wasn't really getting any touches or getting into the flow of the offense. It's a credit to their scheme. But we battled back."

-Notre Dame attackman Matt Kavanagh

Notre Dame tried screens several times to give Kavanagh a favorable matchup, but Lobb often wouldn't take the bait. Kavanagh proved of value, however, by doing little things to free up teammates while Duke focused on him.

Down 8-2 late in the third, Kavanagh saw Perkovic with the ball up top and meandered behind the goal, drifting toward the bench sideline. Lobb opted to go through the crease, topside, just as Perkovic made a move down the right alley. Not unlike hockey, Lobb's short-cut pursuit of Kavanagh came in goalie Luke Aaron's field of vision, and Perkovic's rocket easily found the net to start Notre Dame's rally with 5:20 left in the period.

"I wasn't going to be the one to change the game. It took everyone on our team to do it," Kavanagh said.

Indeed, a double-team of Lobb following a shot early in the fourth caused a ground ball in front of the Notre Dame bench. Kavanagh scooped it up, raced past Lobb, Haus, Casey Carroll, and Luke Duprey, and dove to score 78 seconds into the fourth quarter to bring the Fighting Irish within 8-5. Perkovic, whom Corrigan believes can become a preeminent player in the next couple years, carried the day with five goals, and the future bodes well for a Notre Dame offense that came up just short Monday.

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