Carson, California – Saturday was a groundbreaking day for lacrosse, as its roots west of the Mississippi came to the forefront. The First Four Invitational (sponsored by Brine) brought National Powers Notre Dame, Syracuse, Georgetown and North Carolina. Notre Dame and North Carolina provided the early excitement, while Syracuse and Georgetown brought up the rear in the nightcap. The First Four began earlier in the day with the top high school teams from California meeting outside of the Home Depot Center. The festivities outside of the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA, were wrapped up by an exciting 8-6 revenge of last year’s National MDIA Club Championship by Colorado State over University of California Santa Barbara (stay tuned as an article highlighting the club game will be following later in the week).
The Division One portion of the day began with an intriguing matchup between the Fighting Irish and the Tarheels. The bBig stories for the Tarheels was Mike McCall’s 5 goals, Paul Spellman’s 12 saves, and their inability to win at the face-off X. Notre Dame had great performances from all over. Their defense was led by freshman Joey Kemp’s 13 saves, Junior DJ Driscoll and the entire defense’s role in styming the talent Carolina attack.
Notre Dame came out strong, not shelling the Carolina goal, but simply dominating every aspect of the game in the first quarter. The Irish held a 14-7 shot advantage, went a perfect five-for-five at the face-off X, didn’t allow Carolina to clear the ball and the most astounding stat had to be the 14-to-1 groundball advantage in the first quarter. Notre Dame struck first as All-American attacker (as the announcer, who was still seemingly getting used to the terminology lacrosse, referred to what are commonly called attackmen) Pat Walsh fed Jim Morrison on a man-up opportunity 5:17 into the game.
While Notre Dame did dominate the first period, there was also a little bit of luck involved. The Irish experienced a lapse and threw the ball away giving North Carolina the ball. On the attempted clear, North Carolina goalie Brian Spellman was taking the ball up the field himself. He thought he saw an open Tarheel above the midfield so he lofted a pass towards the area. Pat Walsh made a nice play to intercept the ball. Walsh found a streaking Morrison to beat Spellman, who was frantically trying to get back into position.
North Carolina would eventually calm down and show their patient offense a minute and a half later. Midfielder Lance Zimmerman drove right after a controlled possession and saw the opening in the Irish defense. As he was driving right, Zimmerman banged it back across his body and the defense to attackman Mike McCall. McCall drilled the shot past Irish freshman keeper Joey Kemp to get Carolina on the board. The Irish would add another man-up goal with 1:42 left in the opening quarter. Pat Walsh possessed the ball at X on the man-up. Walsh drove hard right pulling the defense towards him. This created the lane from Walsh across the crease to Mike Podgajny. Podgajny added the 3rd Irish goal and the first of his three on the day. Don’t be surprised if you hear a lot about Walsh and Podgajny over the next couple of years.
Both teams traded possessions to start the second quarter. Making his first start for the Irish was freshman keeper Joey Kemp. Kemp made his presence known at about the 9-minute mark. Kemp made a big save that led into transition allowing Jim Morrison to complete his hat trick for the day – credit the assist this time to Matt Ryan. North Carolina would finally get some possession time and enjoy a little of their own luck. Midfielder Bryant Will possessed the ball up-top after a nice, long possession where the Tarheels tried to work their match-ups and didn’t force anything if it wasn’t there. Will attempted what looked to be a no-look pass into the crease. The ball instead slipped past Kemp for the 2nd Carolina goal.
After another nice possession, North Carolina Mike McCall blew a shot past Kemp who seemed to not know how to react to the shot. This cut the Irish lead to one at 4-3. Notre Dame would have the chance to capitalize on another man-up opportunity before heading into the locker room. It wasn’t clear if the ball was intended for someone on the crease, but in any case it skittered back from Walsh’s stick to the top where Podgajny scooped up the ground ball. He proceed to absolutely rip a a low-to-high left shot to the upper right corner stretching the Irish lead back to 2. with just :22 remaining on the clock.
While the half ended with just a two point lead, the stats didn’t lie as Notre Dame held an advantage in every way. The most glaring were the 80% face-off percentage and the 21-12 groundball advantage. While all signs pointed to Notre Dame’s dominance, it also speaks to the level of talent that North Carolina has. Watching Carolina play, it was hard to say they played well, but you did get the impression that they’re just going through a slump right now. Things are just barely missing. They still played very disciplined on both offense and defense, and have heavy upperclass leadership. To be as close of a game as it was, they must be a talented team. If they can shore up the face-off X, they will be a team to watch as May approaches. By no means, should the play of Notre Dame be put down, they earned the W today. However, it did seem that they would have a nice possession or clear and then just throw the ball away: hinting at their possible immaturity. I think they are a team that is about a year away from really making some serious noise. Especially now if Kemp can emerge in net.
The third quarter wasn’t the most thrilling, as only two goals were scored, but both teams also were playing very solid defense. North Carolina cut the lead to one on a man-up opportunity. The man-up unit displayed superb stick-skills as Ryan Blair banged it to Mike McCall who shored up his hat trick with a quick stick goal. After trading some sloppy turnovers, nice defense and controlled possessions, Joey Kemp stepped up again. Kemp was awarded the Most Valuable Player Award at the end of the game. This can definitely be attributed to his save with about 2:30 left in the third period. Kemp’s save resulted in another transition opportunity. This time Drew Peters found Pat Walsh taking the momentum for the Irish.
Notre Dame’s defense did a great job covering the potent North Carolina attack all game. They especially did a number on Jed Prossner, who is used to scoring more than a goal and an assist a game. Still fighting, Prossner pushed the one-on-one hard a few minutes into the fourth quarter. While Prossner did get a decent look at the net, it wasn’t really a defensive breakdown either. As Prossner pushed hard to get upfield position for the inside roll about 5-6 yards above goal line extended, both he and his defenseman stumbled as he turned back. Prossner started falling through the inside roll, but was able to get off a decent shot as he was falling to beat Kemp.
Mike McCall’s fourth goal of the day would keep North Carolina alive by cutting the lead back to one with just 7:54 left in the game. With North Carolina still fighting, Notre Dame’s Brian Giordano put a damper in the Tarheel spirit by ripping a nice lefty shot while running full speed past Spellman. Down 8-6, Carolina was forced to pressure the ball and bring Spellman out for the double team. Eventually Mike Podgajny found himself all alone and he finished his first collegiate hat trick putting the game out of reach with :56 left. To the Tarheels credit, they never gave up, getting some great looks at the net in the late going. Unfortunately Kemp and the defense turned away most looks, until Ryan Blair found Mike McCall on a nice play for McCall’s fifth goal. Unfortunately for Carolina, it came with just 6 seconds remaining on the clock.
For Notre Dame, they don’t have another game until next weekend when they take on Butler at home. North Carolina, on the other hand, has a game on Wednesday in New York against a Hofstra team that is hungry for a win.
|Mike Mccall||(5, 0)|
|Ryan Blair||(0, 3)|
|Bryant Will||(1, 1)|
|Jed Prossner||(1, 1)|
|Lance Zimmerman||(0, 1)|
|Paul Spellman||12 (0.571)|