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Men’s Lacrosse

Kavanaghs, Fake lead Irish to 17-12 win against No. 1 Duke

| Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Gabriel Zarazua | The Observer
Notre Dame sophomore attacker Chris Kavanagh looks to maneuver past a defender in the Irish’s 15-10 loss to Virginia at Arlotta Stadium on March 25, 2023.

Notre Dame men’s lacrosse could not be held out of the nation’s No. 1 spot for long. Following a two-week absence, the Irish are back on top after a decisive victory against then-No. 1 Duke on Saturday. In front of a sold-out Arlotta Stadium, Notre Dame’s out-performed Duke on both ends of the field. Led by three separate runs of at least four consecutive Irish goals, the Irish prevailed by a final score of 17-12.

Saturday’s game did not get off to an auspicious start for the Irish, unusual for a group that has consistently controlled the first quarter this season. Duke struck first with a goal in the opening minutes. Junior midfielder Eric Dobson quickly responded with a score of his own. But the rest of the period would see both teams trade goals and end with the Blue Devils leading 3-2.

The Irish’s only loss entering had come against Virginia in similar fashion – poor start at home game against a top opponent. Notre Dame needed its stars to step up in order to get a different result against Duke. That came to fruition in the second quarter, Notre Dame’s most complete 15 minutes of the season to date.

Notre Dame sophomore midfielder Ben Ramsey tied the game at 3-3 just over a minute into the quarter. The Irish took their first lead soon after when a pass from graduate student midfielder Jack Simmons gave sophomore attacker Chris Kavanagh an open look at the goal. With momentum on their side for the first time, Notre Dame continued to attack the Blue Devils defense. Senior attacker Pat Kavanagh assisted on senior attacker Jake Taylor’s second goal of the day. Soon after, the two reversed roles as Taylor found Kavanagh on a highlight-reel play that featured both players going behind-the-back to push the Irish lead to 6-3.

Duke’s Dyson Williams snapped the Blue Devils’ scoreless streak with his 37th goal of the season. But Pat Kavanagh extended his dynamic second-quarter performance. He scored another goal of his own and assisting on additional tallies by Chris Kavanagh and Dobson for good measure. Dobson’s second score came with less than 10 seconds remaining in the half, sending the Irish into the locker room with a 9-4 lead.

Notre Dame’s 7-1 second-quarter run had as much to do with their defensive performance as it did with the scoring barrage. Duke featured one of the strongest attacks in the country. And they came into the game fresh off a 16-goal outburst in a win against then-No. 1 Virginia. But despite winning 11 of 15 faceoffs, the Blue Devils managed just four first-half scores by the stifling Irish defense.

That effort started with graduate student defender Chris Fake. After a four-year career at Yale, during which he helped lead the Bulldogs to the 2018 NCAA Championship, Fake has quickly become a centerpiece of Notre Dame’s defense in his first season with the Irish.

Duke’s attack is orchestrated by Brennan O’Neill, a favorite for the Tewaaraton Award for national player of the year and one of the nation’s most prolific scorers. Fake was tasked with marking O’Neill for most of the game and stymied him from start to finish. O’Neill finished with just one goal and no assists, ending his 21-game streak of scoring at least three points.

Fake’s individual effort, as well as the other Irish defenders cutting off passing lanes and pressuring ball-carriers, limited scoring opportunities for Duke’s high-powered offense. He received a bevy of awards for his performance, including National Player of the Week honors from Inside Lacrosse and USA Lacrosse Magazine.

Most of the opportunities that the Blue Devils did create were stopped in their tracks by Irish senior goalie Liam Entenmann. He saved nine of Duke’s 13 first-half shots on goal and finished the game with a season-high 15 saves, marking his seventh straight game with double-digit saves. After the game, Entenmann sits at seventh nationally in save percentage, all the more impressive given the caliber of offenses that he has faced.

While the second quarter was all Irish, Duke’s roster had too much talent to go down without a fight. After Dobson started the second half with his third goal, Notre Dame’s fourth straight, the Blue Devils scored five of the next seven to trim the lead to just 12-9. Pat Kavanagh then closed out the period with a tally from a near-impossible angle. That goal put Duke back down four heading into the final quarter.

Any hope the Blue Devils had of a late comeback was erased in a span of just eight seconds. Chris Kavanagh scored the first goal of the quarter with exactly 14 minutes remaining. After an Irish faceoff win, Kavanagh scored again just eight seconds later, with Pat providing the assist. Those scores put Notre Dame ahead 15-9. They would add another pair in quick succession. Senior midfielder Reilly Gray’s goal was followed by another from Chris Kavanagh.

That goal, Notre Dame’s last, marked Duke’s first time giving up at least 17 goals in regulation since 2015. It also capped off a standout performance from both Kavanagh brothers, who combined for 13 points. Pat finished with three goals and five assists, while Chris tallied five goals. Dobson added three goals and an assist. Simmons and Taylor also each chipped in three points.

Saturday marked Notre Dame’s not just biggest win of the season, but one of the biggest regular-season wins in program history. The Irish improved to 8-1 (2-1 ACC) on the year. They are now 3-1 all-time in No. 1 vs No. 2 matchups. They now move into the final quarter of their schedule. Things will not get easy, as the Irish have rematch with Virginia and a home-and-home against North Carolina coming up. Winning all three would ensure Notre Dame at least a share of the ACC title. It would also likely earn them the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Before that, though, comes a bye week. This provides much-needed rest after a string of tough games. But it also forces the red-hot Irish to wait an extra week before getting back on the field.

Notre Dame will be back in action on Saturday, April 22, when they host North Carolina at noon on ESPNU. The Irish will look to win their third straight in their home regular season finale.

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