Pioneers and Fighting Irish to clash in storied western rivalry

Photo courtesy Denver Athletics

The enthralling western rivalry between two of the most prestigious and powerful programs among college lacrosse takes place Saturday, March 10 in South Bend, Indiana. The No. [5/4] University of Denver Pioneers and the [8/9] Notre Dame Fighting Irish faceoff in a notoriously suspenseful matchup. The Pioneers have won the last six games over the Fighting Irish. A single goal has decided seven of the last nine meetings, five of which required overtime.

“The Notre Dame game really has its own life, it really does,” DU head coach Bill Tierney said. “I don’t think what happened last week or what happened two minutes ago really means anything in this game. It’s two really good lacrosse teams that play really hard. We’re going to Notre Dame and it’s going to be a war. It always is. It’s always a one-goal game, always an overtime game and I expect more of the same.”

Denver is coming off a two-game weekend after traveling to the southeast where the Pioneers faced Furman University in Greenville, S.C. and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, N.C.

“The whole two games in three days thing, it’s a challenge,” Tierney said. “To North Carolina’s credit they did the same thing (hosted St. John’s Saturday, March 3). Furman we gave up a couple of chances, two goals early, got them in the game and excited. To their credit, even when we got the lead they kept playing. It was a little more of a challenge than we wanted on Saturday, but it was good for us. We learned some things from that.”

Denver topped Furman 13-8 on Saturday. Senior faceoff phenom Trevor Baptiste was almost perfect at the X, winning 23-for-24 faceoffs and collected 17 ground balls.

The Pioneers never relinquished the lead throughout the game. With 16 turnovers committed, the game proved to be more challenging than anticipated.

With a quick turnaround, DU traveled north for a top-ten clash with the No. 8-ranked Tar Heels. With a 10-6 victory, the Pioneers halted the Tar Heels’ previous unbeaten 2018 season.

Sophomore attack Ethan Walker scored his fourth-straight hat trick and junior Goalie Alex Ready made season-high nine saves in the victory.

Denver again committed 16 turnovers, but a prominent amount were questionable.

“We have really cut down on the turnovers,” Tierney said. “The numbers don’t show it, but we’ve really cut down.”

Despite the minor details on paper, the games revealed progress made by the Pioneers.

“Monday was just a war. I think it was the first time this year I really saw our defense step-up, be tough, physical and kind of swarming in a way,” Tierney said.  It was a great overall game. The offense played well. We jumped out to a quick lead, then they jumped into a zone so it slowed down a bit, but to their credit their guys just kept playing. The most important thing was over those two games we learned how to manage the fourth quarter with a lead.”

Heading into another top-ten contest, the team is beginning to grasp the necessary means to generate a deep postseason run into May.

“Now that we’re through five games I think guys understand what we have to do,” Tierney said. “They’re getting better at it.”

Faceoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. MT and will be televised on ESPNU.

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