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Irish advance to national championship

Chris Masoud | Friday, December 3, 2010

CARY, N.C. – One goal proved to be the difference, as freshman midfielder Mandy Laddish found the back of the net in the 83rd minute to give Notre Dame a 1-0 victory over Ohio State in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships. Friday’s victory sends Notre Dame to the title game for the first time since 2008.

“I was extremely proud of our kids, especially in the second half,” Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. “I thought we made some adjustments in the second half, and did a great job. I though the second half was very reminiscent of Notre Dame teams that we’re used to seeing.”

Although held scoreless until the final stretch, Notre Dame mounted several attacks that were thwarted by Ohio State sophomore goalkeeper Katie Baumgardner. The Irish outshot the No. 17 Buckeyes (17-5-2) by a margin of 22-7, including 15 shots in a furious second half that saw a number of Irish advances go unrewarded.

“Katie came up really big for us many, many times today,” Ohio State defender Cassie Dickerson said. “Our posts also came up big for us today. They [Irish] are very dynamic up top, and they move the ball very well.”

No. 7 Notre Dame (20-2-2) finally cracked the Ohio State defense when junior forward Melissa Henderson fed Laddish a pass just inside the circle. Laddish took care of the rest, weaving past three defenders and booting a shot in the upper-left corner for the unassisted goal.

“I noticed the goalkeeper starting to cheat towards me, so I tried to shoot high because I figured the goalkeeper would dive for it,” Laddish said. “Once I knew I had the last defender, I decided to shoot.”

Freshmen have accounted for Notre Dame’s last three goals in the tournament, as first-year midfielder Elizabeth Tucker tallied both goals in a 2-0 win over Oklahoma State to send the Irish to the College Cup last Friday. While Henderson has been held largely in check, the veteran forward said she is comfortable sharing the goal-scoring duties with the underclassmen.

“I feel like we have such a great freshmen class that came in,” Henderson said. “It’s awesome to know that you have those players around you that came in and are strong and can put the ball in the back of the net when it needs to be put back there.”

Notre Dame struggled to generate scoring chances in the first half, as the Buckeyes prevented a number of crosses from reaching Henderson and senior forward Rose Augustin. Waldrum credits the Buckeyes for taking his team out of its game for the first 45 minutes.

“We weren’t playing the way we play,” Waldrum said. “I thought we got caught up in their style of play, which is more direct. I didn’t think our outside backs got into the attack at all in the whole first half. As soon as they started getting themselves forward, it changed the game.”

That adjustment proved to be the difference, as Ohio State coach Lori Walker said Waldrum’s second-half strategy exploited an “Achilles heel” of the Ohio State defense. While Laddish’s penetrating run down the middle in the final minutes took advantage of that weakness, the freshman said she was simply trying to contribute.

“It feels really good to score a goal in my first Final Four game,” Laddish said. “It’s an amazing feeling that I can help my team get to the national championship game.”

Notre Dame will play Stanford, who defeated Boston College 2-0, for the national title Sunday at noon. That game will be televised on ESPN2.