There was no mistaking the elephant in the room. Large and wearing Carolina blue, this one sat in front of the door to the 2017 post season. For Notre Dame to pass through the playoff bracket , it would have to move past the elephant warming up at Arlotta Stadium. A win would propel to the conference tournament with confidence and close the book on a disappointing end to a stellar 2016.
Bryan Costabile’s high howitzer on a sharp angle with 2:44 to play in the fourth quarter, gave a green and white clad Notre Dame a 14-13 win against the stubborn Carolina elephant in front of a record 5000 fans at sun-drenched Arlotta Stadium. Mikey Wynne was spectacular, with five goals while Sergio Perkovic contributed three goals and two assists. There were five ties and three lead changes. John Travisano and PJ Finley combined to win 19/30 faceoffs, while Shane Doss posted seven timely saves. Garrett Epple collected seven ground balls and John Sexton scooped up five. With the win, the Irish (7-3) moved to 2-2 in the ACC, locking down the third seed in this weekend’s ACC Tournament. The elephant who knocked the Irish out of the NCAA Tournament last year, didn’t go quietly.
Senior weekend began with lefty John Borbi launching straight and far into a howling wind at The Warren Golf Course on Friday. He welcomed the pressure. A collection of 20 characters dressed as parents navigated the Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore-designed course, situated on the Notre Dame campus. It was cold, competitive and colorful. Bobby Helferich won the longest drive and closest to the pin. Rob Simpson ignored the cold and played in shorts. Contention of scores, handicaps and Guinness-aided drives clouded crowning a team winner. Todd Healy arrived six holes late from Germany, posted a few birdies and blew out birthday candles. Vasko Perkovic is being sought for falsifying Healy’s card. Paul Finley and Jack Travisano agreed to move the winner’s winnings to The Linebacker Inn for Friday night’s Senior Farewell.
We had a great turnout at the Linebacker on Friday night. Dancing to music from yesteryear, parents now howled instead of the wind. Cinderella had long gone to bed before the final Irish exit left us to a group of seven. On behalf of the senior class, thank you. Jack and Laurie Travisano were gracious hosts and caretakers. As Abba brought high fives from young karaoke talent, Jack requested a shift of venues, preferring to end the evening across the street at Mulligans. The request shed new light on his golf score. Rob Walter and Carl Epple will investigate.
A few hours later, Saturday’s tailgate kicked off at the Ivy Court with an overflow gathering. The Perkovics, Collins and Marins imported family from Michigan and New Jersey. It was a scene from Goodfellas. The room never looked better thanks to Tammy Schantz. Wall to wall blue and gold. There were large Sergio heads being waved while the Bloody’s and Guinness flowed. A brief speech thanked this multi-class family for their growing support, with a pledge to prolong the season. The walk to Arlotta Stadium was extended due to Blue and Gold football and softball traffic. The real chaos was at Will-Call.
Arlotta’s capacity would be stretched as the sun burned through overcast skies and warmed to 57 degrees. The berm filled to five deep, end to end. Kathy Koshansky, John Marchese and Bobbie Arlotta had little room to navigate the sidelines, but produced great field photography. Thanks to Kathy and John, whose works can be seen via the photo tab at the top. Great to meet John’s father, Italian born, who’s first lacrosse game was “Verrry, verrry goood.” Bobbie’s work can be seen at Inside Lacrosse.com.
An Irish win would almost eliminate defending national champion Carolina. In a similar position last year, Carolina rallied for an epic win, using the comeback victory over ND as the catalyst to win their first national championship in more than 20 years.
Carolina won the opening possession, scoring first on a short side shot that seemed to surprise 48 seconds into the game. Up to the challenge, ND struck back when Mikey Wynne collected a loose ball after taking a jolt and flicked a backhand shot home for a 1-1 score with four minutes played. Enter Jack Kielty, John Travisano and Bobby Collins. A career moment took place with 8:20 in the first. Moving left and to toward the net, Bobby Gray reached back and uncorked a high to high rocket. Perfectly placed where the crossbar and post come together, Gray’s shot ripped through the net before a national television audience – a backyard dream of every pee wee laxer. A 2-1 Irish lead with six and a half minutes played. Bryan Costabile went to the net, switching hands and finishing to extend the ND lead 3-1 on six shots.
On the ensuing face off, UNC went to net and got one back unassisted, closing to 3-2. Enter Brendan Collins, and Ben Pridemore at midfield, Eric Restic at defensive middie. With 11 seconds remaining in the quarter, Sergio Perkovic stepped toward net, drawing defensive attention. Enter Mikey Wynne, always moving without the ball. Sergio found him in stride and Wynne put the ball behind the goalie to end the quarter at 4-2. The Irish out shot the Tarheels 12-6, while gaining an edge in ground balls, 10-3. Finley and Travisano won 5/7 at the faceoff X versus a respected competitor.
Carolina struck twice in the first four minutes of the second quarter, squaring the game at 4-4. The Irish responded with goals from Perkovic (20), Brendan Gleason (12) and Wynne (21) in barely four minutes. The Leprechaun tired from tossing t-shirts, as the Irish led by three, 7-4. Timmy Phillips and Jack Kielty contributed mightily on the defensive end. Perkovic went to net before bouncing one in. Gleason found a seam and got to the net before finishing. Ryder Garnsey found Wynne with a slick back door pass as Wynne cut to the net with a man advantage. Wynne finished with 5:29 left in the half. The defenses would tighten for the final five minutes before Carolina would score with 3.4 seconds remaining to stay close, but trail at halftime, 7-5. While Travisano and Finley would lay claim 4/6 face offs, Carolina scored five goals on 13 shots.
Carolina’s Chris Cloutier scored his second consecutive goal less than 90 seconds into the third quarter to close within one. But just 31 seconds later, Brendan Gleason came from behind the net and shot low, far post to restore a two goal lead. Two minutes later, Carolina would strike twice within 31 seconds to produce the game’s third tie, 8-8. That’s where Doss stepped in and made a big save, gaining a valuable stop, with Timmy Phillips contributing at defensive middie. Enter big Nick Koshansky, teamed with poles Garrett Epple, Hugh Crance and Pat Healy. Two Mikey Wynne goals restored the two goal lead while stellar defense got stops and turnovers. Enter Anthony Marini at attack. Carolina’s Cloutier scored with 24 seconds remaining, ending a seven minute drought. The blue elephant was back within one, 10-9 to end the third quarter. Credit the Irish defense, limiting Carolina’s offense to a goal in the final 11 minutes. Doss had three critical saves.
A three-goal run to start the fourth quarter gave Carolina their first lead, 12-10, with four minutes played. As in the Marquette game, a defensive stand was needed and delivered. With 10 minutes remaining, Brendan Collins caught a pass 12 feet from the crease. He surveyed and reared, but no slide came. So he took another step and launched high heat, top shelf, to the back of the net. Two minutes later, Collins found Perkovic who bounced a shot in to tie the game at 12-12. Ninety seconds later, Perkovic struck again, returning the Irish to the top 13-12. Both goals were the result of man advantage situations. Long stick middie John Sexton was everywhere, taking two shots, collecting five ground balls and causing three turnovers. But the elephant wasn’t going easy. Where Sexton wasn’t, defensive midfielder Bobby Collins was. Tireless, Collins kept the Tarheels on the perimeter. Despite Irish pressure, UNC tied it with 5:56 remaining. With possession, the Irish burned the clock down to 2:44 before Bryan Costabile, from a difficult angle, launched an overhand shot far post with velocity. Veteran execution in a large moment for the freshman, putting ND back on top with 14-13.
Chaos ensued on the subsequent face off, with Carolina securing the ball, only to have it stolen. Possession changed and changed again. The game would end with Sexton running out the clock. Elephant removed, time to move on. Highlights of the game can be seen here.
The seniors would celebrate with parents that evening at Tippecanoe Restaurant in South Bend. Lisa, Bill and Kathy Koshansky put the evening together, complete with an audio and visual slide show of seniors, diapers to Arlotta. A weekend that began on a windy golf course ended on a historic estate, celebrating four years of memories with more to come.
ND now heads to Durham for a Friday night ACC semifinal game versus Duke at 8:30 pm. ESPNU will broadcast. This will be the third consecutive year we faced Duke in the tournament, losing in Philadelphia and Atlanta. The NCAA Rating Percentage Index (RPI ), which factors in wins and losses with strength of schedule, has ND ranked second and Duke 9th. Syracuse is ranked first and defending champion Carolina is ranked 11th despite their 6-7 record. I suspect an Irish win on Friday would secure a first round home game in the NCAA Tournament – and enable another colorful round of golf in much warmer weather on Saturday. We’ll need all of you in Durham, with dry temperatures forecast in the mid 80’s. Go Irish.