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ND Women’s Lacrosse

Irish fall to Trojans in defensive showdown of top-10 teams

| Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When No. 4 USC and No. 10 Notre Dame started the day Monday, both squads were amongst the nation’s scoring leaders — the Trojans led the NCAA with 15.36 goals per game, while the Irish entered with the fourth-best mark, averaging 14.87.

But what fans at Arlotta Stadium got Monday afternoon was far from an offensive game, as the Trojans (15-0, 7-0 MPSF) ground out a 5-4 win over the Irish (11-5, 4-3 ACC) in the lowest-scoring game in Notre Dame program history.

Two of the country’s top-10 individual scorers, Trojans junior attack Michaela Michael and Irish junior attack Cortney Fortunato, each grabbed a pair of goals, but it was the goalkeepers who stole the show — USC sophomore Gussie Johns notched 10 saves, while Notre Dame freshman Samantha Giacolone made nine of her own in the loss.

“I think you’ve got to give credit to both defensive units and both goalkeepers today,” Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “To put two of the top-scoring offenses at their season lows at four and five is something that’s obviously pretty special for them that they can hang on to.”

Notre Dame opened the scoring just 2:09 into the game when senior midfielder Stephanie Toy scored her 11th goal of the season before two Trojans goals in the next few minutes gave USC its first lead. Irish junior attack Grace Muller leveled the score with 17:00 to play in the half, and Fortunato returned the lead to Notre Dame 23 seconds later with a free-position goal. But it only took a couple minutes for Trojans junior attack Kylie Drexel to level the score once more at 3-3.

Irish senior midfielder Stephanie Toy attacks the Trojan defense during Notre Dame’s 5-4 loss to USC on Monday at Arlotta Stadium.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Irish senior midfielder Stephanie Toy attacks the Trojan defense during Notre Dame’s 5-4 loss to USC on Monday at Arlotta Stadium.

Despite there still being more than 13 minutes left in the half, neither side was able to break through for a halftime advantage — though the Irish had a golden opportunity right before halftime, when three scoring chances, including a free-position effort from Fortunato, went by the wayside.

The Trojans opened the scoring after the break when Michael grabbed her first goal, but Fortunato answered to tie things up once more, this time at 4-4, with 17:34 to play.

Irish junior attack Cortney Fortunato looks for the open pass during Notre Dame's 5-4 loss to USC on Monday at Arlotta Stadium.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Irish junior attack Cortney Fortunato looks for the open pass during Notre Dame’s 5-4 loss to USC on Monday at Arlotta Stadium.

Perhaps the game’s biggest moment came off the ensuing draw control, where Notre Dame won possession and raced down the field to score what looked like a good goal — but the referees didn’t allow it, keeping the score tied.

“I’ve already got film that one of our goals actually did go in, so we’re talking about a 5-5, and it’s a tough break to have to fall on that sword,” Halfpenny said. “We’re not the ones that can actually whistle it a goal even though we have video footage, we saw it from the sideline [and] our players saw it, so that’s a tough one.”

A couple minutes later, with 14:58 to play, Michael grabbed her second goal of the game and 52nd of the season — the goal that proved to be the game-winner.

After getting that slim 5-4 lead, the Trojans bore down to see out the win: Notre Dame registered just one shot on goal in the final 15 minutes, a tame effort from junior midfielder Casey Pearsall with 2:45 to play.

After the loss, Notre Dame’s third by one goal against a team ranked above it in this week’s Inside Lacrosse poll, Halfpenny said her team was vocal in the locker room.

“I think that they gave themselves a message — the team did most of the talking,” Halfpenny said. “They talked to one another, and it’s really tough to know that USC maybe made one play more than we did.”

On the stat line, it was a tight game — the Irish edged the Trojans in forced turnovers (19-17) and shots (20-19), tied them in ground balls (19-19) and lost draw controls by one (6-5). For both teams, the shot numbers were the lowest of the season, and Halfpenny said her attacking unit knows it has to do better moving forward.

“For us, I think that there was a clear message from the players to each other that four goals is unacceptable for the scoring offense and the high-octane ability that we have and all of the different ways that we’ve been scoring all season,” Halfpenny said. “Four is just not who we are; we need to be better, and we’re gonna prepare and definitely be better — more than four, we’ll be better than four next time out.”

Notre Dame concludes its regular season with a trip to No. 9 Ohio State on Saturday, with the first draw at Owens Memorial Stadium scheduled for 3 p.m.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.”At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer.A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa.When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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