Wildcats shock No. 5 Irish in final seconds
Zach Klonsinski | Monday, September 8, 2014
A perfect late-summer evening at Alumni Stadium saw No. 5 Notre Dame square off with Kentucky in the final game of the marathon weekend that was the 12th-annual Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament, but the match was not so perfect for the Irish.With Notre Dame playing for a chance to claim its second consecutive tournament title with a win, the Wildcats (2-2-0) shocked the Irish (2-1-1) by a score of 1-0 on a goal by freshman forward Stefan Stojkovic with only 25 seconds remaining in the match.
The Irish fell instead to third place, leaving No. 12 Indiana as the champion and Kentucky to finish in second.
“It was heartbreaking, the way we lost,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “We played very well as a group, and you just feel sorry for us because [Kentucky was] really just playing for a tie. The referee even added time on at the end because they were trying to play out the game.”
Notre Dame controlled the flow of the match from the opening kick. Graduate student forward Leon Brown had the first chance of the game for Notre Dame, firing a loose ball from 11 yards out that was stopped by Kentucky junior goalkeeper Callum Irving. Irving also stopped Irish junior midfielder Evan Panken from close range in the 15th minute, tipping the shot just above the cross bar.
“We could have worked him [Irving] a little bit harder,” Clark said. “But he had one phenomenal save where he put it over the top.”
Notre Dame graduate student goalkeeper Patrick Wall matched the play of his counterpart as well in the early stages. Wall twice blocked Wildcat senior forward Justin Laird, once on a strike from 15 yards out and another off of an Irish turnover at the top of the penalty box. Wall came out to meet Laird, knocking the ball away and then pouncing on it before any damage could be done.
“[That] was a very silly error by us — we tried to make them get in there, and Pat made the great save,” Clark said.
The strong goalkeeping play on both sides left the teams scoreless at halftime.
Notre Dame would again create the first scoring opportunity of the half, as junior midfielder Patrick Hodan made a run straight into the penalty box, launching a shot from 16 yards out. Irving deflected the shot straight into the air, where he and Irish senior forward Vince Cicciarelli battled for it. The ball kicked out to Panken, who saw his shot sail wide right of the crowded frame. Notre Dame graduate student defenseman Andrew O’Malley headed a cross sent in from a corner kick just over the bar in the 64th minute.
The Irish had yet another golden chance to take the lead with seven minutes left in regulation. Junior midfielder Connor Klekota fed a pass into freshman forward Jon Gallagher, whose shot from 14 yards sailed inches wide of the post, followed only seconds later by a header just wide by senior midfielder Nick Besler.
Notre Dame dominated the second half, outshooting Kentucky 10-1 in the period, part of an 18-5 shot advantage for the game.
“Until you get that breakthrough is very difficult,” Clark said. “We had to get that goal, and we had opportunities where maybe our final pass, our final decision just let us down a little bit. … The finishing’s got to improve — we’ve got to take chances, maybe create a little more in the offensive zone.”
Even with all the Irish chances, the one shot the Wildcats managed in the second half turned out to be most important of the game.
After playing much of the second half with eight, nine and sometimes even 10 players back on defense inside the penalty box, Kentucky cleared a ball from its defensive side of midfield, and freshman midfielder Hampus Agerstrom found himself with the ball and running room towards the Irish net. He played a ball into the middle, where Stojkovic had space. His shot into the low-right corner of the net sent the Kentucky team, bench and fans into a frenzy, while the Irish watched in stunned silence.
“They got a kick up and just one moment of concentration to be honest with you,” Clark said. “When you’re dominating in a game as much as that, you’ve got to really concentrate, and we let ourselves down a little bit.
“Hopefully it’s a lesson learned, and we’ll move forward.”A desperate volley into the penalty box as time expired was punched away by Irving, and the upset was complete. The loss was the first for the Irish in 318 days, dating back to the 2-0 home loss to then-No. 19 Virginia on Oct. 26.
“Full marks to Kentucky — they hung in very well,” Clark said. “Their goalkeeper was excellent, and they got an opportunist goal there right at the end.”
Notre Dame will look to shake off the loss Saturday, when it travels to Syracuse for the first game of its ACC schedule.