ND Women’s Lacrosse
Fortunato leads Irish en route to commanding win
Alex Carson | Monday, March 23, 2015
Donning its new green jerseys for the first time, No. 18 Notre Dame used a second-half spurt to power past No. 15 Ohio State in a 13-5 win Saturday at Arlotta Stadium.
Despite outshooting the Buckeyes (8-2, 0-0 Big Ten) by a 17-8 margin in the first half, the Irish (5-4, 1-2 ACC) held just a 3-2 lead at the halftime interval.
But in the first five and a half minutes of the second half, Notre Dame made that dominance show, scoring four quick-fire goals to pull away for its first win of the season over a ranked opponent.
Just 17 seconds into the second half, sophomore attack Cortney Fortunato scored her second goal of the game to stretch the Irish advantage to two goals. Sophomore midfielder Casey Pearsall won the half’s opening draw and fed Fortunato, who did the rest to get the Irish on the board early in the second half.
“They’re in there and they’re like, ‘Let’s come out fast, let’s play our fast brand and win the draw and score the first goal,’” Irish head coach Christine Halfpenny said. “And they did it.”
Pearsall herself scored just 70 seconds later to take the Notre Dame lead to 5-2 before junior midfielder Brie Custis sprung senior midfielder Caitlin Gargan free on the break to tally Notre Dame’s third goal of the half just 3:26 into the second stanza.
And two minutes later, it was Pearsall scoring again — this time on an assist from Fortunato — to cap off the blitz, leaving the Irish ahead 7-2 just 5:25 into the second half.
“[Putting the game away early in the half] just kind of happened,” Fortunato said. “But we came out a little bit frustrated that we were only up one and started finishing our shots.”
If the game was not already out of reach after that spurt, Fortunato — Notre Dame’s leading scorer — ensured it was a few minutes later, scoring from a free-position shot with 19:51 to play and from a Custis assist with 17:15 left to solidify the Irish advantage at 9-2.
Despite controlling play from the onset, it took Notre Dame more than six minutes of possession to get on the scoreboard in the first half when junior midfielder Stephanie Toy finally broke the deadlock 6:33 in on Notre Dame’s sixth shot of the game.
The Buckeyes answered at the other end a couple minutes later when senior attack Jackie Cifarelli tied the game but it was a stalemate that only lasted as long as seven seconds.
Senior defender Barbara Sullivan won the draw and fed sophomore attack Grace Muller, who found Fortunato all alone behind the Buckeyes defense. Notre Dame’s leading scorer would not squander the opportunity, beating Buckeyes senior goaltender Tori DeScenza to give the Irish a lead they would not relinquish.
DeScenza kept Notre Dame at bay throughout the first half — the Irish had 12 goal-bound shots in the first half, but DeScenza kept nine of them out — but Halfpenny said the low conversion rate in the first half did not phase her team.
“When we’re getting great looks [but not scoring], we’re now getting a little bit older and more mature saying, ‘We’re good, we’re good, just keep going,’” Halfpenny said. “… It doesn’t frustrate us if we’re not getting the looks.”
As the game drew to a close, junior attack Rachel Sexton recorded a hat trick, scoring thrice in the final four minutes to stay on the heels of Fortunato at the top of the Irish goalscoring charts; Sexton’s hat trick took her to 15 goals on the season, just four back of Fortunato.
But for Fortunato — who has scored 12 of her 19 goals in the last two games — the difference for the Irish comes when they play a more team-oriented game.
“We’re doing a really good job of working together which we weren’t doing a good job of in the beginning of the year,” Fortunato said. “We’re getting used to playing together and building chemistry.”
Despite the prolific day for the Irish attack, Halfpenny praised her team’s defense as playing a big role in the win.
“Our swarming defense really launched our attack,” Halfpenny said. “… We’re thrilled with that defense right now.”
Fortunato said controlling the play was a point of emphasis for the Irish on Saturday.
“Our game plan right now is just to control the possessions,” Fortunato said. “The longer we have the ball, the other team doesn’t.”
After scoring in the first half, Irish attack Heidi Annaheim did not play in the second half; the sophomore was hit in the head at the end of the first half and Halfpenny held her out the rest of the way as a precautionary measure.
Notre Dame returns to action Wednesday when it visits Marquette; the first draw is scheduled for 4 p.m.