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ND Women’s Soccer

No. 14 Irish fall to No. 4 Clemson in home finale

| Monday, October 19, 2020

No. 14 Notre Dame suffered a second consecutive home loss in a 2-1 defeat to No. 4 Clemson Sunday afternoon in the home finale for the Irish (3-3, 3-3 ACC) at Alumni Stadium.

Irish freshman forward Ellie Ospeck cancelled out Clemson (5-2, 4-2 ACC) sophomore midfielder Hal Hershfelt’s 13th-minute opener under a minute into the second half, but Tigers freshman midfielder Megan Bornkamp’s goal six and a half minutes from time meant all three points traveled home with the Tigers.

It was another gut-wrenching loss for Notre Dame, who had conceded an 87th minute winner last time out against Wake Forest. The Irish had the lion’s share of possession against the Demon Deacons but failed to take advantage, and it was a similar story Sunday despite an impressive second-half display by the Irish. 

Notre Dame outshot Clemson 19-9 and mustered 11 shots as opposed to Clemson’s four, but the Tigers needed just a single shot on goal in the second half to all but secure one of the eight spots in this year’s ACC tournament. After Sunday’s victory, the Tigers find themselves in third place in the conference standings on 12 points, five above ninth-placed Wake Forest. 

The Irish now face a critical road trip as they hope to qualify for the tournament played in Cary, North Carolina, for a second straight year. Pittsburgh and Notre Dame now both sit on nine points, occupying the seventh and eighth spots in the conference, respectively. The Irish travel to Louisville, who are currently fourth in the ACC, next Sunday before finishing the season at No. 1 North Carolina four days later.

Observer File Photo

Irish senior midfielder Sammi Fisher winds up for a kick during Notre Dame’s 3-0 win against Syracuse on Oct. 4, 2019, at home.

On Sunday, Notre Dame head coach Nate Norman appeared to opt for a more offensive-minded lineup with the surprise inclusions of junior midfielder Brooke VanDyck and Ospeck in the starting XI, pushing senior attacking midfielder Sammi Fisher into a center-forward role. The game got off to a blistering start, and the first gilt-edge chances went the Irish’s way. 

With less than 10 minutes gone, freshman midfielder Eva Gaetino won the ball in an opportune spot in the midfield and was able to slip in Eva Hurm, but the senior forward’s near-post effort was saved by a strong left hand from Clemson junior goalkeeper Hensley Hancuff. 

Off the ensuing corner, Hancuff made a fantastic double save. Fisher’s corner towards the back post was volleyed first-time by junior Brianna Martinez from just over six yards out. The rebound off Hancuff’s initial save looked destined to be tapped home by either sophomore midfielder Maddie Mercado or senior forward Olivia Wingate, but Hancuff threw her body in the way and held on to Mercado’s effort. 

Less than a minute later, Hershfelt made the Irish pay with her first goal of the year. After a great run down the right-hand side by Clemson sophomore defender Makenna Morris, a Bornkamp cross was only partially cleared. Tigers sophomore forward Lauren Bruns controlled the ball just outside the top of box before tapping it to Hershfelt, who ran at the Irish back line before lashing the ball past Notre Dame junior goalkeeper Mattie Interian to give Clemson the early lead. 

The Irish failed to meaningfully test Hancuff for the remainder of the first half despite dominating the ball, but a halftime adjustment paid dividends right after the break. Ospeck was moved from defense up to the center-forward position as Fisher moved back into midfield, and the pair combined for the equalizer just seconds into the second half.

Fisher had plenty of room in the center of midfield after receiving the ball from senior forward Luisa Delgado, and she promptly slipped in Ospeck for a one-on-one with Hancuff. The Clemson goalkeeper slid in but was left helpless as her save ricocheted off Ospeck and past the goalkeeper for the freshman to easily bundle home. 

With Notre Dame clearly in the supremacy, the only yellow card of the game was given to Bornkamp after a foul on Gaetino, who was outstanding at winning the ball back for the Irish in over an hour of action. She also weathered a litany of hard fouls, including more than one committed by Bornkamp, in an extremely physical game that featured 29 fouls in total.

Just before the midway point of the second half, the Irish were inches away from going ahead. Again, Ospeck caused the Tigers back line problems with her speed. After racing down the left-hand side, she cut it back for Delgado, whose side-footed effort at the top of the 18 was denied by Hancuff’s right post before the rebound was sent over the bar by Wingate.  

The Irish pinned Clemson back for the vast majority of the second half, but the Tigers snatched the victory with just seven minutes to play through Bornkamp’s third goal of the season. Bruns was given plenty of space to bring down a crossfield ball inside the Irish penalty area before cutting it back to Bornkamp. Her initial shot was blocked by sophomore defender Waniya Hudson, but Bornkamp kept her composure at the second time of asking.

Notre Dame predictably pushed hard for a late equalizer. The Irish came closest when Fisher made contact with a low cross from Wingate, but she could only find side netting with a flick off the outside of her foot. 

As the Irish looked desperately for a second goal, forward Kiki Van Zanten remained on the bench. Van Zanten entered the contest leading the country with an average of 1.2 goals per game and first in the ACC with six goals in conference play, but the sophomore only featured in the final 14 minutes of the first half. 

Kickoff at Louisville next Sunday is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. The game will be nationally broadcast on the ACC Network. 

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