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Upsetting loss

Matt Puglisi | Monday, November 8, 2004

They play the games for a reason.

While all signs pointed to the Big East Championships with first-seeded Notre Dame (13-2-3) putting away visiting eighth-seeded Seton Hall (11-6-2) and moving onto the tournament’s semifinals next weekend, the result didn’t follow expectations as the Pirates upset No. 4 Notre Dame 8-7 on penalty kicks after battling to a 0-0 tie through regulation and a pair of overtimes Saturday night at Alumni Field.

“It’s annoying when you tie a game but go out a game,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “It counts as a tie, but unfortunately you get eliminated with the penalty kicks.”

After having trouble generating scoring chances early – the Irish recorded only a single shot in the game’s opening 20 minutes – midfielder Nate Norman nearly put Notre Dame in front with 16 minutes remaining in the first half, drilling the ball just over the crossbar from the top of the box.

Seton Hall squandered perhaps the game’s best opportunity when Pirate freshman Yomar Gonzalez’s go-ahead-goal bid beat Irish goalkeeper Chris Sawyer, yet clanged off the crossbar and out of harm’s way 11 minutes into the second half.

While the Irish dominated second half and overtime play – they outshot the Pirates 14-8 in the game’s final 65 minutes, including 6-2 in overtime and 22-16 overall – they failed to produce the game-winner.

“It’s disappointing,” Clark said. “It’s tough because I thought we played well – we controlled a lot of the game, especially in the second half. I thought in the second half and in overtime we looked very good.”

Penalty kicks were necessary to decide the quarterfinals contest after neither team was able to find the back of the net after 90 minutes of regulation play and an additional 20 minutes of overtime.

“You used to have to play four overtimes of 15 minutes before going to [penalty kicks],” Clark said. “Now you go to them fair early, which is a little bit harsh because you’re in them very quickly.”

Shooting second, Notre Dame matched Seton Hall shot-for-shot through the first seven rounds as forward John Mousinho, defender Kevin Goldthwaite, defender Christopher High, forward Joe Lapira, defender Jack Stewart, midfielder Ian Etherington and forward Justin McGeeney all beat Pirate goalkeeper Boris Pardo.

However, after Seton Hall’s Matt Salotti put the Pirates in front, 8-7, in the eighth round, Norman was unable to answer for the Irish, blasting his attempt over the crossbar.

While Clark and the Irish obviously would have preferred to move on in the Big East Championships and defend the conference tournament title they earned last season, the upset isn’t without a silver lining.

The Irish now have additional time to prepare for the NCAA tournament, scheduled to begin in two weeks.

“To be perfectly honest, I would liked to have won,” Clark said. “It would have been nice if we had gone [to Piscataway, N.J. for the Big East Championships semifinals], but it lets us catch up with studies and hopefully get ready to make a run in the NCAA tournament.”

In the end, while important, the conference tournament is just a stepping stone to the national tournament.

“If you said to me which tournament would you rather progress in – the Big East or the NCAA’s – that question doesn’t even need to be answered,” Clark said. “We’ve just got to move on and use the time at hand to get ready for the tournament.”

In excellent position for a first-round bye, the Irish will now wait for the NCAA Division I men’s soccer selection show, slated for Nov. 15 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPNews, to determine their next opponent.