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Men’s Lacrosse: Irish fall in title game OT

Allan Joseph | Friday, August 20, 2010

Competing for the program’s first national championship, the Irish fell to Duke in heartbreaking fashion before a crowd of 37,126 in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium in May.

Led by the red-hot play of goalie Scott Rodgers, competing for the last time in an Irish uniform just weeks after his graduation, Notre Dame surprised many by shrugging off an inconsistent regular season and smothering its opponents on its way to the title game, only to lose the championship five seconds into overtime.

Considered by many to be the “last team in” to the NCAA tournament, the unseeded Irish opened the tournament by toppling No. 6 Princeton by the score of 8-5 and then avenged last season-ending defeat by topping No. 3-seeded Maryland by the count of 7-5. In Final Four in Baltimore, the Irish downed No. 7 Cornell to earn the right to face the No. 5 Blue Devils for the tournament crown. Irish coach Kevin Corrigan was pleasantly surprised by the reversal of fortunes from the 2009 season.

“A year ago we were undefeated going into the tournament and thought that was going to be our fate; we played a really poor game against Maryland and were out before we got started,” he said. “This year, it was kind of the opposite: a crazy, up-and-down year, but couldn’t have played better through the last four games of the season in the tournament.”

The Irish focused on defense throughout the tourney, preferring to slow the tempo of the game and limit their opponent’s time of possession. Facing an explosive offensive Blue Devil duo in Ned Crotty and Max Quinzani, Notre Dame again slowed the pace of the game, leading to the lowest-scoring final in NCAA history. With the score tied at 4 entering the fourth quarter, the Irish took the lead on a goal from sophomore Sean Rogers that was answered by the Blue Devils barely three minutes later, sending the tense contest into a sudden-death overtime. Duke’s CJ Costabile won the extra period’s opening faceoff, sprinted down the field, and rifled a shot past Rodgers to give the Blue Devils the championship merely five seconds after the ball had dropped in overtime. The lightning-quick ending came as a stunning blow to the Irish, who had relied on their defense throughout the tournament.

“Everybody was crushed because you don’t get that far and want anything but the championship,” Corrigan said. “You know when you go to overtime, that’s how the game’s going to end — in the blink of an eye.”

Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Irish came away with a recognition that they, despite being a midwest school in a sport dominated by east coast powers, could compete for a national championship as Corrigan has long believed. In addition, Rodgers was voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in recognition of goalie play that Corrigan called “the best any goalie’s ever played in the NCAA tournament”; senior midfielder Zach Brenneman and senior defenseman Kevin Ridgway were both named to the all-tournament team. Corrigan also singled out senior midfielder David Earl for outstanding play, though the coach said the team’s Cinderella run was a team effort.

“We played as a whole team,” he said. “We made really, really good decisions down the stretch and played to our strengths as well as we have in a long time.”

After the tournament, the Irish took a team trip to Japan to scrimmage the Japanese national team, which Corrigan considered a fantastic experience for his players.

“It was a chance for everybody to stay together,” he said. “It was a great trip in a beautiful country, and we couldn’t have been treated better by our hosts. Our guys had just a really neat experience.”

Despite losing one player at every position, including Rodgers, who is now playing in Major League Lacrosse, Corrigan said his team has what it takes to pull off another run at the national championship.

“I think we start over and see if we can’t take all the pieces that we do have back and add the new guys and see if we can’t put together another run,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t — we’ll certainly have enough ability.”