SOUTH BEND – It didn’t take two end-of-regular-season losses for Notre Dame men’s lacrosse head coach Kevin Corrigan to know what kind of team he had entering the NCAA Tournament.
Afforded the No. 4 seed in the 18-team bracket, Corrigan and the rest of the college lacrosse world knew if the Irish, coming off road losses to No. 18 North Carolina (14-10 in the ACC Championship) and No. 17 Army (10-9 in overtime), ever got healthy, they would be a handful.
With sophomore attacker Ryder Garnsey and senior midfielder Sergio Perkovic working their way back from recent injuries, the guys carrying the load in their absence continued their late-season offensive mastery as Notre Dame eliminated Marquette 15-9 Sunday before 1,480 fans at Arlotta Stadium.
Two midfielders named Brendan — sophomore Brendan Gleason and junior Brendan Collins — scored five and four goals, respectively, and a stingy defense in front of senior goalie Shane Doss, who made 12 saves, pushed the 9-5 Irish into the quarterfinals for the eighth straight season, the longest active streak in the nation.
Next up is No. 5 seed Denver, which beat Notre Dame 11-10 on March 12 in the Mile High City. This time, however, the Irish and the 12-3 Pioneers, who advanced with a 17-10 victory over Air Force Saturday, will meet Saturday afternoon at sea level in the James M. Shuart Stadium on the Long Island campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. Game time will be either noon or 2:30 p.m.
“We have a lot of guys who can make plays,” said Corrigan, a veteran of 31 years as a head coach and 29 at Notre Dame, which has been to five Final Fours and twice played for the national championship (in 2010 and ’14). “That’s going to help us as we go forward.”
Garnsey (ankle) and Perkovic (wrist), first and third in scoring this season, suffered their injuries during the ACC Championship loss to North Carolina and sat out the Army loss. But Gleason, Collins and the rest of the Irish didn’t need any pep talks from Corrigan.
“When guys go down, the next guys come in,” said the 6-foot-2, 193-pound Collins, whose four goals were not only a personal best but one fewer than what he had tallied in the team’s previous 13 games.
“We’re taught that everyone can step up and play a role,” added the speedy and sometimes acrobatic 5-foot-10, 184-pound Gleason, whose five goals tied the school record for goals in an NCAA game held by five others, including current teammates Perkovic (twice) and junior Mikey Wynne, who scored twice against the 8-8 Golden Eagles.
Gleason’s five goals also give him 12 for the last three games (three against UNC and four against Army). Gleason also added an assist for six points, one off the school’s individual NCAA best.
Garnsey finished with three points (a goal and two assists) and Perkovic had just one assist but a team-high eight shots after not taking any in practices leading up to Sunday’s pre-game warm-up. Freshman midfielder Bryan Costabile had a goal and an assist. Freshman attacker Brian Willetts and sophomore midfielder Timmy Phillips had the other goals. For Marquette, John Wagner had three goals, Andy DeMichiei and Ryan McNamara had two each and Tanner Thomson finished with four points (one goal, three assists).
Notre Dame never trailed as Gleason and Collins scored within 45 seconds of each other for a 2-0 lead at the 12:04 mark of the first period. After Wagner cut the lead in half, Garnsey made it 3-1 after one period and Collins put the Irish up 4-1 just 58 seconds into the second.
But Marquette, which won 19 of 28 faceoffs and kept pace with Notre Dame in shots (the teams broke even at 35 apiece), scored three times in a span of 88 seconds to tie the game at 4-all.
The Irish and their coach stayed calm.
“We lost a couple of ground balls and didn’t score on a couple of good possessions,” Corrigan said, “but I wasn’t super concerned.”
Gleason put the Irish back up for good at 5:22 when he took a hit from a Marquette defender and was falling to the ground as he rifled a shot past goalie Cole Blazer. Phillips and Wynne then scored off transitions in the final minute to give the Irish a 7-4 halftime lead.
Wynne scored his team-high 30th goal of the season 32 seconds into the third period off a feed from Garnsey to begin a five-goal outburst that included Gleason’s final three goals. Collins increased the lead to 13-7 early in the final period while Doss was holding Marquette scoreless with three remarkable saves.
“Notre Dame is better than I thought,” said Marquette head coach Joe Amplo, whose team dropped an 11-10 decision at Notre Dame on April 11 but won the Big East Championship thanks to an 11-8 semifinal victory over Denver May 4. “You know how good Perkovic and Garnsey are, but the other guys surprised me.”
The secret is out.