Unseeded Notre Dame tops No. 7 seed Cornell to reach first NCAA men's lacrosse final
BALTIMORE -- Notre Dame fifth-year senior goalie Scott Rodgers gave up a goal on the first shot he faced in an NCAA semifinal against Cornell on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium. He did not give up much else. Rodgers finished with 16 saves as unseeded Notre Dame defeated Cornell, 12-7, to advance to its first NCAA championship game.
After giving up the early goal for Notre Dame (10-6), Rodgers made saves on the final eight Cornell possessions of the quarter. Meantime, junior defenseman Kevin Ridgway continued his stellar play as he held Cornell sophomore Rob Pannell, the Ivy League player of the year and a first-team all-American attackman, to 0-for-9 shooting and two assists.
"[Rodgers] played unbelievable, he bailed us out a bunch in the first quarter," Ridgway said. "You're always going to have a few butterflies, but once we started to settle in and got used to the atmosphere, we got a pretty good feel for them."
Trailing 8-5 at the start of the fourth quarter and in desperate need of possession, seventh-seeded Cornell (12-6) made a change.
Senior defenseman Michael Howe took the first three faceoffs of the quarter. He had taken only five faceoffs this year but in an NCAA tournament first-round win over Hofstra last year, Howe won 8 of 12 in the second half to spur a comeback. The Big Red used that comeback to start a run that had it reach the NCAA title game.
There was no such run this year. Notre Dame senior Trever Sipperly won two of three faceoffs against Howe to keep the Big Red at bay and help send his team into Monday's final against fifth-seeded Duke.
The crucial stretch came with Cornell down 8-5 but with possession early in the fourth quarter.
Pannell was matched against a shortstick defender on a switch. Rather than working the matchup, Pannell shot quickly from a low angle. The Cornell fans cheered as they saw the net move, only to realize that the ball had landed outside the net, not inside it, with 12 minutes 51 seconds to play.
Notre Dame cleared, ran its second-line midfield into the game, held the ball, was called for a stall warning, continued to hold the ball, only for freshman Steve Murphy to breeze past his defender and score on a close, one-handed shot for a 9-5 lead with 10:55 to play.
"Notre Dame did a great job packing it in on defense," Pannell said. "They took away a lot of our inside looks. It was hard to get quality shots inside and when we did, Scotty Rodgers made the save."
Cornell's defense was led by junior Max Feely, a Landon graduate and honorable mention all-American. When Feely was on the field in the first half, the Fighting Irish outscored Cornell, 4-3.
The two times Feely was not on the field, Notre Dame took advantage. The first time, Feely was called for a 30-second penalty for pushing with 10:52 left in the first quarter. Twelve seconds later, junior Zach Brenneman scored an extra-man goal for to give Notre Dame a 5-2 lead.
The Big Red closed to 5-3 following a goal by freshman Steve Mock (team-high three goals) with 3:33 left in the first half.
But Feely was called for another pushing penalty in the final 90 seconds of the first half. With Feely out of the game, Cornell gave a long stick to shortstick defender Andrew MacDonald.
Notre Dame did not score on the extra-man advantage, but Feely could not re-enter the game after the penalty because the Big Red already had their full complement of longsticks.
And as Feely watched from the sideline, senior Neal Hicks -- the player Feely had been guarding -- beat MacDonald on a dodge and scored for a 6-3 lead with 16 seconds in the first half. Hicks finished with four goals.
The other difference in the first half was the goalies. Cornell started freshman A.J. Fiore. In the 39-year history of the NCAA tournament, only five freshmen have started in goal for the team that won the national title.
The experience difference showed. Fiore made one save in the first quarter. The Fighting Irish scored on their final three shots of the quarter and led 3-1 following a goal by senior Adam Felicetti with six seconds left. It was Felicetti's first goal this year.