Irish top Terps, advance to national championship game
Greg Hadley | Saturday, May 24, 2014
BALTIMORE – By the time Matt Kavanagh buried his fifth goal of the NCAA semifinal against No. 7 seed Maryland in the back of the net, there was no doubt that No. 6 seed Notre Dame was headed to the national championship game. The only question was if the sophomore attack could outscore Maryland by himself.
In the end, Kavanagh could not match Maryland’s final total, but there was little else he could not do on a day when the Irish (12-5, 2-3 ACC) grabbed an early lead and rolled past the Terrapins (13-3, 4-1), 11-6, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. He ended the game with five goals and two assists, giving him 72 points on the year, the most of any Irish player since 1996.
“He’s a terrific player,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. “He’s a hard guy to cover, but he’s a hard guy to cover off ball; he’s a hard guy to cover inside; he’s a hard guy to cover with the ball on his stick in two-man game; he’s a hard guy to cover in space.
“There are a lot of different things you can do with him … and we’ve had to learn how to keep him relevant in different games, and I think it has helped us to give us some variety to our offense and to allow him to be effective no matter what people are doing, no matter how they’re playing him.”
Kavanagh’s offensive outburst was accompanied by points from seven other players, including Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer, junior attack Conor Doyle, who chipped in with a goal and three assists.
After a regular-season home loss and a last-second upset in the ACC tournament, the Irish found their offensive rhythm early Saturday. Despite facing an overwhelmingly pro-Maryland crowd just 30 miles from the Terrapins’ campus, Notre Dame scored the game’s first two goals, then added two more in the last 20 seconds of the first quarter to take a 4-2 lead.
“Quite honestly, it’s kind of funny,” Corrigan said when asked about playing Maryland so close to their home turf. “I read the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun today, and … they talked more about the Duke-Maryland matchup than they did the Maryland-Notre Dame matchup, and I said, ‘Okay, that’s fine with us.’ We like being those guys.”
The Terrapins kept the Irish within striking distance in the second quarter, entering the half trailing 6-4, but Maryland struggled to keep the Notre Dame offense in check.
While the Terrapins won the faceoff battle, leading the Irish 11-2 at the midway point, they also committed 12 turnovers in the first half alone, almost as many as the team averaged per game over the course of the season (13.38).
“I think a lot of that is just self-inflicted,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “We turned the ball over I think eight times in the first quarter, and it was a little different turnover each time. It was maybe just a different situation with a different player. I think our guys were really amped up, and it’s hard when … you have to have a defensive mentality, and then you have to have an offensive mentality. So defensively, you can have that fiery speech, but offensively you’ve got to make sure that you get into a flow.”
Any momentum or flow that the Terrapins had entering the second half was lost when Notre Dame opened the half with the first two goals, swelling its lead to four. From there, the Irish cruised, scoring three of the game’s final four goals for the victory.
Maryland scored just twice in the second half, despite unleashing 19 shots on Irish junior goalkeeper Conor Kelly. Kelly tallied 14 saves — tied for his second-highest single-game total — and collected his sixth straight victory after spending the middle of the season on the bench.
“I felt like I was seeing the ball well,” Kelly said. “I thought I saw the ball well against them the last time [in the ACC semifinals]. Playing a team three times is tough, but you also get to see their shooters three times, so I thought I got a good read on their releases.”
Corrigan said his defense, which has endured a tougher-than-normal season, played particularly well against Maryland, killing both of its man-up opportunities and causing 10 turnovers.
“I think we’ve evolved defensively and just gotten better, and it’s nice to see [that] we’ve played really well,” Corrigan said. “But listen, two, three weeks ago we played 18-17 with Army [in the regular-season finale], so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.”
With the win, the Irish advance to the second national championship game in program history. Notre Dame will play top-seeded Duke, which defeated No. 5 seed Denver, 15-12, in the other semifinal. The Blue Devils (16-3, 4-1) are the defending national champions and enter the championship having won 12 of their past 13 games. Blue Devils senior attack and Tewaaraton Award finalist Jordan Wolf, who notched three goals and two assists Saturday, leads Duke.
Game-time is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.