In the first matchup between the two best western college lacrosse programs in the country since the Denver’s 16-4 NCAA Tournament rout, the #11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish held off a furious rally by the #4 University of Denver Pioneers to win 11-9 in South Bend, Indiana. It wasn’t a perfectly played game by any stretch but it was just the latest in a decade of classic games in the best rivalry in the sport.
Turnovers have been the Pioneers’ Achilles heel all year and today was no exception. Star faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste lost the opening faceoff and things went downhill from there in the first half. By the end of the first quarter, Notre Dame benefitted from a DU own-goal and boasted a 6-1 lead and Denver was reeling. The Pios couldn’t hold onto the ball and the Irish took full advantage of the sloppy play by the boys in crimson.
Denver recovered from their first quarter meltdown but the sloppy play persisted. Too many possessions were thwarted by lazy passes or a lack of awareness of Notre Dame’s defensive positioning. DU’s defense got its legs though and by the end of the first half, the deficit held at 5 with the Irish up 8-3.
Whatever head coach Bill Tierney said in the locker room at halftime, it worked. The Pioneers outscored the Irish 3-2 in the third quarter to pull back to within striking distance of the lead. Baptiste continued controlled things at the X and Denver’s offense got their turnover problems under control. All of a sudden a four-goal deficit after 45 minutes of lacrosse didn’t seem so insurmountable.
With about eight and a half minutes left in the game, star sophomore attack Ethan Walker scored his fifth goal of the game to pull the Pioneers to within one goal of the Irish. The comeback was on and what once looked like a lost cause was turning into another classic game between Denver and Notre Dame.
Notre Dame’s Bryan Costabile iced the game with about four minutes left with a third chance shot after DU LSM Sean Mayle had a rocket of a shot saved by Irish goalie Matt Schmidt. The game wasn’t over at that point but Denver’s calculated and at times laborious offense couldn’t strike quickly enough to erase the two-goal deficit.
In the end, Denver lost the 2018 regular season edition of the western rivalry. It will be a tough pill for the Pioneers to swallow, but it may be a good example that will help them clean up their offensive play. The 12 turnovers, eight of which came in the first half, committed by the Pioneers were a key reason why they lost this game. Denver is one of the best teams in the country and if they can clean up their turnovers, they will be a scary team capable of dominating their way back to Championship Weekend.