Irish can clinch conference title with win
Alex Carson | Thursday, October 30, 2014
When No. 5 Notre Dame travels to Pittsburgh for its regular-season finale Saturday, it will have a chance to secure not just the ACC’s best record but also the top seed in the conference tournament, which begins next week, with a win.“It’s certainly a big game,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said of this weekend’s matchup. “It’s a huge motivation. I think this team is pretty motivated every game, and our schedule motivates us — there’s no easy games, so we’re pretty motivated every time we go out — but this is a pretty special one.”
And after last season’s campaign, a victory would mean two consecutive regular-season titles for the Irish (9-4-3, 5-1-1 ACC).
“If we could pull this one off, it would mean that we would have won back-to-back ACC league titles, which would be pretty impressive,” Clark said.
The Panthers (4-8-4, 0-5-2) might be the conference’s only team without a league win, but Clark said the Irish will face a test on their travels to Pennsylvania.
“It’ll be a tough game down there; it’s never easy at Pitt,” Clark said.
After holding its opponents scoreless in four of its first eight games, the Notre Dame defense kept just one clean sheet in its eight October games, something Clark said he would like to see improvement on heading into the season’s end.
“I’m kind of disappointed we haven’t had a shutout for a while,” Clark said. “I think that’s disappointing because that’s something the team prides itself in. We normally get a few more shutouts … that’s one shutout in eight games, and we’ve got to do better than that. We’ve got to get stingier at the back. Even we’ve won quite a few of these games, we don’t want to give anything away.”
Junior midfielder Patrick Hodan has scored six times in the last seven games for the Irish and despite the junior’s re-emergence as a regular goalscorer, he remains the only player on the team with more than three goals for the year. Clark cautioned that the team cannot leave it all to Hodan while at the same time, asserting that his team has plenty of capable goalscorers.
“There’s a lot of people that can score goals, and you can’t leave it all to one man,” Clark said. “It was nice for [junior midfielder] Evan Pankin to get a goal [Wednesday], and all the forwards can score — they’re more than capable — and our midfield can score. We have a lot of people who can score, but we can’t leave it solely to Patrick.”
As a result of the 1-1 draw with Michigan State on Wednesday, the Irish went the maximum of 110 minutes. But despite the short turnaround to Saturday’s game, Clark expects his teams to have few fitness issues — thanks, in part, to the brisk autumn temperatures.
“I think we’re a very fit team,” Clark said. “We’ll be ready to go. The big thing about this time of year is that you’re not gonna get any heat, heat exhaustion at this time of the year. … If this was back in August, this is a much more difficult [game].”
Since an Oct. 3 home loss to Boston College, the Irish have won three consecutive conference games, scoring at least three goals in each of them — wins over Louisville, Duke and Virginia Tech. Notre Dame leads the conference by a single point over North Carolina, which hosts Virginia on Saturday.
A pair of Notre Dame players are at the top of the conference’s scoring charts, as Hodan leads with five goals in league contests, while junior midfielder Connor Klekota is tied for the lead in assists with four. Graduate student goalkeeper Patrick Wall has seen just 24 shots on target in seven conference games and allowed six goals.
A win Saturday at Pittsburgh’s Ambrose Urbanic Field would give Notre Dame its second consecutive regular-season crown. The first kick is scheduled for 7 p.m.