Notre Dame glides by Air Force in NCAA lacrosse tourney opener

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Historically speaking, Notre Dame knows its way around the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament.

Saturday night’s 15-7 first-round rout of Air Force was the 11th straight time the Irish have ventured into the postseason, though the title has been elusive. The next step of the journey will be next Sunday in the quarterfinals at Ohio State against North Carolina (9-6), an Atlantic Coast Conference rival that beat Notre Dame, 17-15, on April 23.

After losing two of their last three games heading into the tournament, the third-seeded Irish (11-3) found that extra gear in the second period against the Falcons (15-3). Leading 3-2 after 15 minutes, Notre Dame tightened the clamps on defense and rode three goals by Ryder Garnsey to a 9-4 halftime lead.

“Every team now feels the accomplishment of making the tournament,” Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. “You know that whoever you play is playing with a great identity; a great confidence. You know you have to do the same thing.”

Air Force was no slouch. The Falcons came to a frigid Arlotta Stadium as the champions of the Southern Conference, riding a 15-game winning streak. This season Air Force had lost to Denver, seeded No. 2 in the NCAA Tournament, by a goal, and had beaten highly regarded Duke by one in overtime on the road.

The favored Irish had complete respect for their adversary.

“There’s always a little feeling out,” Corrigan said about the first period. “They do things differently than we do. Until you see them do it, you can adjust.

“They snuck a couple in on us, but they were things we thought were correctable from the defensive side. Offensively, we had some opportunities. We got more comfortable with where they were sliding from, and it got easier for us.”

It got to the point where the Irish were untouched in front of the Falcon goal — which is poison for the opponent.

Mikey Wynne scored Notre Dame’s first goal of the game and finished with five and an assist. Garnsey added an assist to his three goals. Team leader Matt Kavanaugh was continually hounded, held to a goal and two assists. Timmy Phillips, Kyle Trolley, Sergio Perkovic, Trevor Brosco and Eddy Lubowicki also scored for Notre Dame.

Nick Hruby had two Air Force goals.

“Teammates (made it happen), like they’ve been doing all year,” said Wynne, a 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore attacker. “I just did the easy part. I’m playing alongside, probably, the best player to play at Notre Dame, in Matt Kavanaugh.

“(The attention the others get) helps out with spacing. I just tried to get into an open space, catch it and put it into the net.”

Really does sound easy. Even during tournament time.

Notre Dame junior Sergio Perkovic takes a shot during the Notre Dame vs. Air Force lacrosse game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)