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Men’s Soccer: ND looks to lock up NCAA bid

Matthew DeFranks | Friday, October 28, 2011

With a Big East tournament berth secured, the No. 14 Irish will turn their focus to a larger bid: the NCAA tournament.

The Irish look to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games when they welcome No. 25 West Virginia to Alumni Stadium on Saturday. Irish coach Bobby Clark said he views the upcoming contest as a golden opportunity to achieve a goal as well.

“If we win this game, that will pretty much lock down a bid for the NCAAs,” Clark said. “If you make the NCAAs, you know it’s been a good year. You can’t win the NCAAs unless you make the tournament.”

After clinching a Big East tournament berth in its victory over Providence on Wednesday, Notre Dame (8-3-4, 4-2-1 Big East) returns home for the first time since Oct. 8, when it held then-No. 1 Connecticut to a scoreless draw. Notre Dame has not lost at home all season, but has not notched a win at Alumni Stadium since Sept. 24.

“It’s nice to get back home for sure,” Clark said. “It’s a big game for so many different reasons. You’ve got to win your remaining games.”

The Irish have lost their last two meetings against West Virginia by one goal apiece.

“They’ve had our number the past two years,” Clark said. “Both games we’ve played well in and we thought we deserved more, but we lost both of them. I feel we’re certainly due something, but you only get wins because you play well.”

The Irish carry with them three consecutive wins over conference opponents, all on the road. The stretch marks the second time this year Notre Dame has scored two or more goals in three consecutive games.

“I don’t think anything has changed [during the three game winning streak],” Clark said. “I think we’ve been playing well all season. This team has played as well as any team I’ve ever had here.”

In the 2-1 victory over the Friars on Wednesday, senior midfielder Brendan King and sophomore midfielder Harry Shipp notched goals for the Irish. Shipp is now tied with junior forward Ryan Finley for the team lead in goals. Sophomore forward Leon Brown and senior defender Greg Klazura chipped in one assist each.

Despite a last-minute goal from the Friars, the Notre Dame defense held strong again. The match marked the sixth consecutive game the Irish have allowed one goal or less, a streak dating back to a 1-1 tie against Northwestern on Oct. 5. Prior to the streak, the Irish fell in a 2-1 double-overtime loss to St. John’s on Oct. 1.

“We lost at St. John’s, but we played superbly well,” Clark said. “If you look through the games we’ve lost, we’ve actually played pretty well.”

Irish senior goalkeeper Will Walsh has anchored the strong Notre Dame defense, posting five shutouts and a 0.80 goals against average.

The Mountaineers (9-6-1, 5-3-0) enter the game having won five of their last seven games, including a 2-0 victory over Seton Hall on Wednesday.

“They’re very good, very athletic, very strong, big [and] fairly direct,” Clark said.

Senior defender Raymon Gaddis, a preseason All-Big East selection, has missed the last two games for West Virginia due to an ankle injury sustained during its 2-0 win over then-No. 1 Connecticut. His status against the Irish is unknown.

Junior midfielder Shadow Sebele has six goals and a team-high seven assists for the Mountaineers, while freshman forward Andy Bevin has netted a team-high seven goals.

Sebele, a Zimbabwe product, and Bevin, a New Zealand native, are two of the four non-Americans on the Mountaineer roster. By comparison, the Irish have zero international players.

“They’re well organized,” Clark said. “It won’t be an easy task for sure.”

Notre Dame and West Virginia will jockey for conference positioning Saturday at noon at Alumni Stadium.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu