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Irish pull away late against Connecticut

Matt Puglisi | Monday, November 1, 2004

Joe Lapira has a flair for the dramatic.For the second time in the last three games, the freshman striker provided the game-winning goal in the contest’s final 10 minutes as the No. 5 Irish (13-2-2, 8-1-1 in Big East) conquered both Conn-ecticut (8-7-2, 4-4-1) and fierce elements in a 2-0 victory on a cold, windy Saturday night at Alumni Field.”I thought it was a great result from our point of view,” coach Bobby Clark said. “On a cold night, to grind out a result like that was very good. I thought we played well enough to win, but we can definitely play better than that.”The victory leaves the Irish with a program-record eight conference wins this season, eclipsing their previous high of seven in 2001.The new conference win mark marks the second time in as many contests the 2004 Irish have written their names into the record books – the Irish clinched their first regular season Big East title since joining the conference in 1995 with a 1-0 victory over Rutgers on Oct. 23.In a game that was slow to develop – Irish midfielder Greg Dalby unleashed the first shot nearly 20 minutes into the contest and Connecticut didn’t record a shot until just past the 30-minute mark – Notre Dame produced the game’s first scoring chances.After midfielder Ian Etherington nearly put the Irish in front on a run into the left side of the box with 17 minutes remaining during the first half, defender Jack Stewart dented the crossbar on a blast off a loose corner a minute later.Fellow defender and senior classmate Kevin Goldthwaite imitated Stewart 12 minutes into the second half, firing yet another Irish shot off the crossbar.After several Notre Dame opportunities failed to bear goal-scoring fruit, the Huskies nearly buoyed their upset bid with 11 minutes left in the contest.Attempting to defend a free kick, Irish goalkeeper Chris Sawyer was caught out of position, forcing the Irish defense to clear the ball off the goal line to preserve the tie.”It was the wind that caused that [opportunity],” Clark said. “It was a difficult ball into the box – any balls on a day like [Saturday] cause trouble.”After falling short on several occasions, the Irish finally cashed in at the 84:54 mark on Lapira’s third goal of the season – all three tallies have been game-winners.Driving down the left side of the field, midfielder Nate Norman sliced a cross into the box that Lapira lunged for and redirected into the side netting just inside the right post to stake Notre Dame to a late 1-0 advantage.”It was a fabulous goal,” Clark said. “Joe just got in front of his defender and glanced it into the corner – very difficult for the goalkeeper.”After needing almost 85 minutes to net their first goal, the Irish didn’t wait long to light up the scoreboard a second time.Three minutes, 41 seconds after Lapira found the back of the net, freshman striker John Mousinho posted the first goal of his collegiate career, slamming home a cross from striker Justin McGeeney to seal the contest.”It was just a great combination between two strikers,” Clark said. “Justin got onto a very good ball from Ryan Miller, saw ‘Big Moose’ in the middle and [Mousinho] just hammered it in. It’s nice to see that goal get in because it certainly made it very easy to run out the clock after that.”The Irish finish regular season play Tuesday night when regional rival Michigan State visits Alumni Field. While the Irish have already locked up the No. 1 seed in the Big East Championships tournament scheduled to begin Nov. 6, Notre Dame is still hungry for victories to both secure a higher NCAA tournament seed and protect its home turf.”We’re looking for seedings – it’d be great to get a victory against Michigan State,” Clark said. “[A win] would give us a perfect regular season home record – that would be very nice.”