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Men’s Lacrosse: Nittany Lions overpowered by Kemp, tenacious defense

Tim Dougherty | Monday, February 27, 2006

In the preseason, co-captain and senior defenseman D.J. Driscoll said the difference between playing in the 2006 NCAA Tournament or watching it on TV would be the performance of the Irish defense. In its first test of the season on Sunday, Notre Dame responded to that challenge with an 8-4 triumph over Penn State at the Loftus Center, allowing the fewest goals in over a year, since April 9, 2004 – a 12-2 victory at Air Force.

Sophomore goalie Joey Kemp recorded 13 saves, including several screaming shots from short distance, to lead a stubborn Irish resistance.

“It all starts with our defense and Joey Kemp,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. “He played very well. Overall we didn’t give anything away. We made them earn what they got, and Joey probably stole a couple away that they earned.”

Both teams pitched first quarter shutouts until freshman attackman Peter Christman scored 40 seconds into the second frame on an assist by senior attackman Brian Hubschmann. The Irish capitalized on an errant Penn State pass that sophomore midfielder Taylor Clagett picked up – one of his four groundballs – to spark the score en route to a 3-2 halftime lead.

Christman’s goal was the first of two critical goals he scored in his first collegiate game on his only two shots, an accomplishment matched by fellow freshman attackman Ryan Hoff, who scored two goals on four shots.

Another tough defensive holdout in the third quarter saw only one goal scored. With under two minutes left in the period, Penn State senior attackman – and honorable mention All-American – Nate Whitaker scored the second of three goals for the elusive offensive sparkplug of the Nittany Lions. Whitaker extended his scoring streak to 43 games, encompassing every college game of his career.

With the game tied 3-3 in the fourth quarter, the Irish freshmen busted the game open, each scoring consecutive goals to fuel a 5-3 lead the Irish never relinquished.

“When you get four goals from freshmen, you got to be excited about that,” Corrigan said. “They played within the game. They got opportunities, and they made them count.”

Christman and Hoff benefited from a Penn State defense that keyed on star Irish attackman senior Pat Walsh, who had limited opportunities to attack the net throughout most of the game. Walsh, who days earlier was named to the Tewaaraton Trophy watch list for the nation’s top player, scored the Irish’s eighth goal with 1:55 left in the game – avoiding the first pointless performance of his collegiate career.

Driscoll led the Irish with five groundballs, pacing the team’s 30-27 advantage overall.

“D.J. Driscoll played just an outstanding game all around,” Corrigan said. “He was very active, played all over the place. He didn’t take any bad chances and get himself in trouble.”

Although the Irish needed a fourth-quarter offensive onslaught to secure a win Sunday, Corrigan was pleased with the first three quarters of mistake-free lacrosse that set up the fourth frame outburst.

“We did have the ball a lot,” he said. “In time of possession we were in control. Clagett did a great job of facing off. We wore [Penn State] down a little bit, and [we took] advantage of that in the fourth quarter.”

Corrigan hopes the team’s fundamentally sound performance, led by Driscoll and Kemp’s defense and Clagett’s 10-for-16 face-off performance, will resonate with the team as it turns its attention to No. 9 Cornell next Saturday, whom they will face in Chicago at a neutral site at 1 p.m.

“If you play a sound fundamental game and don’t make mistakes to give away goals, you can put yourself in position to win a lot of games,” Corrigan said. “There’s still a lot of things we can do better. Hopefully we can keep working hard and improve, and we’ll have a chance to become a really good team.”