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Irish claim GWLL title by beating Ohio State

Greg Arbogast | Monday, April 30, 2007

The Irish are headed back to the NCAA Tournament, and this time, they’re doing it on their own terms.

After qualifying for last year’s NCAA Tournament as one of the final at-large teams, No. 10 Notre Dame gained an automatic bid to this year’s tournament with a 12-6 victory over No. 20 Ohio State that secured the 2007 Greater Western Lacrosse League (GWLL) title for the Irish as well as the league’s automatic tournament bid.

“Last year, we kind of snuck in,” senior midfielder Lucius Polk said. “If we’re 11-3, we’re going to the tournament anyway, but it’s nice to be going to the tournament this year with a higher seed.”

With the way Notre Dame has played recently, it is making a strong case to the selection committee for one of the top seeds in the tournament. After starting the season 3-3, the Irish won seven consecutive games, improving their overall record to 10-3 to go along with a perfect 4-0 mark in conference play. During its winning streak, Notre Dame has outscored its opponents by an astounding 93-29 margin.

“Starting 3-3, we knew at that point that we would have to win out to have any kind of impact on the season,” Polk said. “The fact that we came together as a team to grind out seven going on eight victories is a big statement to who we are as a team and a unit.”

Perhaps none of Notre Dame’s seven consecutive victories has been as impressive as Saturday’s win over Ohio State. Coming into the game, the Buckeyes had won four consecutive contests and sat a half-game ahead of the Irish in the GWLL standings.

Strong defense and timely offense ultimately helped turn what had been a close game into a comfortable victory for Notre Dame.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Irish held a slim 8-6 advantage before rattling off four consecutive goals to end the game.

Polk started the run by tallying his fourth and final goal of the day off a pass from freshman attack Will Yeatman. Sophomore attack Duncan Swezey added his second goal of the day to push the Irish lead to four with only 4:35 remaining. Yeatman then notched his second goal of the day off a pass from junior midfielder Michael Podgajny, who finished the run with a goal of his own.

On the other end of the field, Notre Dame’s defense tightened up, allowing only four shots on goal – all of which were stopped by junior keeper Joey Kemp who had 13 total saves on the day.

“We came around in the second half,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. “We finished the opportunities we had, and we didn’t give them many opportunities. When they did get opportunities, Joey [Kemp] was all over the ball. He wasn’t letting anything get by.”

The first half was a different story.

After taking leads of 3-0 and 5-1, Notre Dame made some mistakes that let Ohio State cut the lead to 7-5 by halftime. During the stretch, the Irish missed three one-on-one opportunities at the Buckeye end of the field and allowed Ohio State to recover and score on a play where the Notre Dame defense forced a ground ball.

In the third quarter, Ohio State’s Joel Dalgarno cut the Irish lead to one with 11:46 remaining in the third quarter, but Notre Dame’s Ryan Cunn pushed the Irish lead back to two with 1:52 left in the period, and that would be as close as the Buckeyes would get.

“We played well throughout, but we didn’t finish everything well,” Corrigan said. “We had some defensive plays that cost us some goals. We missed three one-on-one’s at the offensive end. All of a sudden, it’s 7-5 at halftime. In the second half, we didn’t make those mistakes.”

Notre Dame will finish its regular season next Saturday when it travels to Quinnipiac to try to clinch a perfect conference record.