Virginia Lacrosse Falls to Notre Dame 13-12 in Overtime Heartbreaker
By Matt Newton,2023-05-28
In trying to make sense of his team's stinging loss, Lars Tiffany hearkened back to the 2019 Virginia men's lacrosse team, which won five games in overtime, including one against Duke in the Final Four en route to winning the national title. "A team that found ways to always win in overtime by obviously the closest of margins," said the UVA head coach, before contrasting that 2019 team with the 2023 iteration of the Cavaliers, who lost both of their games that went to overtime this season, including the game that ultimately ended their season.
Virginia had beaten Notre Dame twice in the regular season by a combined nine goals. But on Championship Weekend, all of the history goes out the window. The Fighting Irish seized the opportunity in their third crack against the Cavaliers, outplaying UVA down the stretch and ending regulation on a 3-1 run to force overtime. And in the second semifinal game of the day to go to overtime, it was the do-it-all Swiss Army knife Brian Tevlin who played the hero for the Irish on the first possession of overtime, dodging down the alley and beating UVA goalkeeper Matthew Nunes low as Notre Dame handed Virginia a heartbreaking 13-12 overtime loss in the semifinals of the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championship on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.
With two teams who both boast stout defenses and powerful offenses, the key in this game was always going to be the specialists. Notre Dame was thought to have the edge in goalkeeping thanks to the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year Liam Entenmann, while Virginia was supposed to have the advantage at faceoff with the NCAA's all-time leader in faceoff draws Petey LaSalla.
Instead, the reverse was true, as UVA sophomore netminder Matthew Nunes had one of the best games of his career to outplay Entenmann, while LaSalla was bested at the faceoff x by the Fighting Irish, who gladly took a hefty possession advantage in the game, winning the faceoff battle 16-12 and holding a 42-30 edge in groundballs.
That trend started right from the beginning, with Notre Dame winning the first two draws and scoring twice on goals from Eric Dobson and former Cavalier Jack Simmons before Virginia even touched the ball. Dobson and Simmons had two goals apiece in the first half and Dobson was the lead enforcer for the Irish offense with four goals and an assist.
Although Notre Dame threw the first punch and raced out to the early 2-0 lead, those two goals of separation represented the largest lead either team would have in the game. Virginia answered with a three-goal run to claim the lead, with each goal coming from a different scorer as Patrick McIntosh, Grayson Sallade, and Connor Shellenberger each found the back of the net.
Shellenberger added another phenomenal chapter to his Mr. May resume with three goals and three assists, but Virginia's top performer of the game was Matthew Nunes, who bounced back after giving up the two early goals and notched six first-quarter saves, finishing with 17 saves in the game.
"He's the reason we had that one- or two-goal lead later in the game because he just wouldn't let the ball in as the game went on," Tiffany said. "A fantastic performance there."
Still, the UVA defense gave up a couple of point-blank goals towards the end of the quarter, including a brilliant behind-the-back pass from Pat Kavanagh to Jake Taylor, who finished inside to give Notre Dame a 4-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Shellenberger scored a goal and assisted on another to start the second quarter, but a transition goal from Ben Ramsey tied things up again. McIntosh added his second goal of the game, but Eric Dobson responded as the Cavaliers and Fighting Irish went back-and-forth and were ultimately knotted at 6-6 heading into halftime.
Tewaaraton finalist Pat Kavanagh spent some time off the field late in the half and appeared to have suffered some kind of hamstring injury, but he fought through it and played the second half. Kavanagh was held to two goals and an assist on nine shots, while his younger brother Chris Kavanagh had only one goal on nine shots, as Cole Kastner and Cade Saustad successfully prevented them from taking over the game. Still, the Kavanagh brothers made big plays at critical moments to help their team stay in - and ultimately win - the game.
Virginia's offense struggled to create its usual crease opportunities off-ball as the Notre Dame defense was disciplined in guarding Xander Dickson and Payton Cormier, who each had only one goal in the game. After Eric Dobson got the scoring started in the third quarter with his third goal of the game, Dickson scored his only goal on a perfectly-placed cross-crease feed from Shellenberger that allowed Dickson to score despite him not being open at all. The high degree of difficulty of that pitch and catch shows just how tough it was for the Cavaliers to execute their bread-and-butter offense on Saturday.
With Matthew Nunes stymieing the Notre Dame shooters and the Irish defense remaining disciplined against UVA's cutters, the outcome was a tight, entertaining game that rivaled the first semifinal that also went to overtime with Duke pulling out the win over Penn State. Virginia and Notre Dame were tied nine times and neither team led by more than two goals in the game.
After Pat Kavanagh scored his first goal of the game off a feed from Jack Simmons, Peter Garno collected a loose ball out of mid-air in front of the crease and scored to give Virginia a 9-8 lead at the end of the third quarter. Griffin Schutz briefly reminded everyone why he was the top recruit in his class to start the fourth quarter, using a smooth split dodge to free himself for a righty rip that gave the Cavaliers a 10-8 lead, their largest of the game.
Notre Dame answered with a goal just 30 seconds later as Pat Kavanagh expertly used a screen to bolt past Kastner behind the cage and scored with his left hand. Despite not having his best day at the faceoff x, Petey LaSalla made a big impact play after that, winning the ensuing faceoff and keeping Notre Dame faceoff man Will Lynch on the field to play defense. Later in the possession, LaSalla danced around Lynch with a dodge and fit a shot between the legs of Liam Entenmann to restore UVA's two-goal lead.
At that point, Virginia had scored five of the last seven goals and led 11-9 with just eight minutes left in regulation. Rather than pressing the attack and trying to seize control of the game, the Cavaliers chose to kill clock on consecutive possessions and failed to score late in the shot clock. Matthew Nunes continued his excellent game and denied Chris Kavanagh on back-to-back possessions to keep the margin at two goals.
Griffin Schutz then took an early shot in UVA's possession that was saved by Entenmann, giving the ball back to Notre Dame with less than three minutes to go. Kevin Corrigan took a timeout to draw up a play, beginning a crucial sequence that saved the game for the Irish. Notre Dame scored very quickly out of the timeout with Eric Dobson dodging from the top and threading a perfect skip pass to Chris Kavanagh, who tip-toed around the crease and scored.
31 seconds later, Notre Dame scored again to tie the game as the Fighting Irish won the ensuing faceoff and Dobson called his own number this time, dodging inside, absorbing multiple stick checks, and scoring to knot things up at 11-11.
LaSalla won the next draw and Virginia capitalized. Jeff Conner dodged and fed inside to Payton Cormier, who was checked as he shot to send the ball flying over the cage. Connor Shellenberger snagged the shot out of mid-air behind the cage and quickly fired a pass in front to Thomas McConvey, who scored to put the Cavaliers back in front 12-11 with just 52.5 seconds remaining.
With the game hanging in the balance, Will Lynch bested Petey LaSalla to give the Fighting Irish a chance. Corrigan called timeout and drew up another excellent play, as Notre Dame scored very quickly out of that timeout again, with Brian Tevlin finding an open Jake Taylor in the middle of the field and Taylor firing a crafty twister shot past Nunes to tie the game once again.
Petey LaSalla has been a staple of Virginia's success over the last five seasons and was a big reason why the Cavaliers came home with the national titles in 2019 and 2021, but his final game in a UVA uniform was far from his best. Notre Dame won four of the final five faceoffs of the game, including the pivotal draw to begin the overtime period.
And for the third time in the final few minutes of the game, Kevin Corrigan called a timeout and drew up an effective play that allowed Notre Dame to pick apart the Virginia defense and get a high-percentage shot right away. Brian Tevlin dodged across the field and then re-dodged down the right-side alley, gaining a step on Grayson Sallade and burying a shot inside the near pipe to give Notre Dame the win.
It was a thrilling game that could have gone either way, but Notre Dame executed at a high level at faceoff and offensively down the stretch, while UVA slightly took its foot off the gas offensively and was spotty in its team defense. That proved to be the difference.
"I'm not happy with the way I guided the defense at the end of the game, but I don't want to take credit away from Notre Dame," Tiffany said after the game.
Notre Dame advances to take on Duke in the All-ACC National Championship Game on Monday at 1pm. The Fighting Irish defeated the Blue Devils 17-12 on April 8th in South Bend.
It's a heartbreaking end to the season for Virginia, which finishes at 13-4 overall. The loss brings to an end the tremendous careers of Xander Dickson, Cade Saustad, Grayson Sallade, Petey LaSalla, and Jeff Conner, who each won a pair of national titles in their time at UVA and were instrumental in the reconstruction of the Virginia men's lacrosse program under Lars Tiffany.
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