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Irish shutout two conference opponents for win and draw

Matt Gamber | Monday, September 22, 2008

No. 3 Notre Dame held a pair of Big East opponents scoreless as the Irish (5-1-1, 2-0-1 Big East) continued their five-game unbeaten streak dating back to a season-opening 3-0 loss to Akron Aug. 29.

The Irish played No. 5 St. John’s (6-0-2, 1-0-1 Big East) to a scoreless draw Friday before getting goals from three different players in a 3-0 victory over Syracuse (4-1-2, 1-1-0 Big East) Sunday.

Despite out-shooting St. John’s 22-10, the Irish couldn’t breakthrough in the Red Storm’s Big East opener. Senior forward Bright Dike led the Notre Dame attack with six shots, with four of them on target.

“I thought it was a very, very strong performance and I thought we were very unlucky not to come out with the victory,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “Dike could have had several goals tonight. He caused havoc up there.”

The Irish dominated possession and pressured the St. John’s defense, but Red Storm goalkeeper Neal Kitson made 11 saves to thwart several strong chances for Notre Dame.

Four minutes into the second half, Kitson deflected Dike’s first near-goal high over the crossbar. Six minutes later, Dike’s deep free kick ricocheted off the crossbar.

Midway through the second half, Dike had another strong effort go right into Kitson’s hands from 18 yards out.

Kitson’s most crucial save came early in the second overtime when he tipped sophomore midfielder Jeb Brovsky’s header over the bar, preventing what may have been the game-winner for the Irish.

“Full marks to St. John’s,” Clark said. “They’re a tough, resolute team and that’s why they’re undefeated.”

Notre Dame senior keeper Andrew Quinn tied a career high with five saves, including one diving effort in the second overtime that kept the game tied.

“Quinn came up with two vital saves,” Clark said. “It was a good team performance. All the players that played were very solid.”

After his several near-misses Friday, it didn’t take long for Dike to get the Irish on the board Sunday afternoon.

His goal in the third minute from junior midfielder Dave Donohue put Notre Dame ahead for good and tied him with Donohue and junior midfielder Michael Thomas for the team-lead with four goals.

Thomas made it 2-0 when he drilled a free kick from the left side low toward the far post, and junior forward Tamba Samba capped the scoring with his first career goal early in the second half.

“It was a very good offensive performance,” Clark said. “The big thing today was the play of [sophomore forward] Steven Perry and Tamba Samba… They came on for the first time this season [and] I feel they really stamped their authority in a game, and that was terrific.”

Perhaps more impressive for the Irish was the continued dominance of their defense. Quinn recorded his second straight shutout and third of the year in just Notre Dame’s seventh game.

Quinn made a career-best eight saves and has now allowed just one goal over the last four games, all against Big East teams. The Irish beat South Florida 5-0 on Sept. 7 during the Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament in a game that did not count toward the conference standings.

The Irish have allowed seven goals in seven games but only four over their last six.

“[Central defenders Matt] Besler and [Aaron] Maund also deserve special mention today,” Clark said. “[Syracuse is] a huge team and a very physical team. I thought both Maund and Besler handled that physical challenge superbly.”

After five straight home contests, the Irish begin a three-game road stretch that begins Friday at Cincinnati in a Big East match.