(4) Denver v. (1) Notre Dame
Notre Dame authored a tremendous fourth quarter comeback but was unable to ride its momentum in overtime, falling to Denver, 11-10, in the first national semifinal of the NCAA Tournament. Tyler Pace led the Pioneers with two goals and two assists while Wes Berg and Zach Miller combined for six points to complement Pace's effort. Sergio Perkovic accounted for five goals for the Irish and Will Corrigan chipped in a solid three points in a supporting role. Notre Dame's season ends with a 12-3 record (two of the Irish's trio of losses came at the hands of Denver) while the Pioneers improve to 16-2.
The first half featured a deflated pace, the kind of struggle that Denver prefers and one that limited Notre Dame's ability to break out in transition and press the Pioneers with early offense. The first 30 minutes of the game promoted only an estimated 30 possessions with Denver holding a 17-11 advantage over the Irish. Despite the edge in opportunity margin, the Pioneers struggled to breach Notre Dame's net: Shane Doss registered seven saves in the contest's first two quarters (Denver put over 61 percent of its 18 shots on net) and the Pioneers shot a feeble 22.22 percent, committing five uncharacteristic turnovers en route to an estimated offensive efficiency that hovered around 24 percent. The output aligned with Notre Dame's fearsome defensive efficiency, but the Irish were unable to capitalize on the team's tremendous defensive effort: Turning only an estimated 27.27 percent of its offensive opportunities into tallies, Notre Dame struggled through a half that exhibited sloppiness from the Irish (Notre Dame committed seven giveaways against the Pioneers, those turnovers accounting for almost two-thirds of the Irish's offensive possessions) and an inability to solve Ryan LaPlante (Denver's keeper held a 57.14 save percentage in the opening two frames, helping Denver's defense hold Notre Dame to 21.43 percent shooting). The residue of all of this was a surprising 4-3 lead for the Pios at the intermission, a reduced display of goal-scoring competence from two of the best offensive teams in the nation. No player for either team recorded more than one goal in the first half.
Denver, however, seized control of the game midway through the third quarter. Having survived Notre Dame knotting the scoreboard at four just 2:12 into the penultimate period, the Pioneers started their rush on a Berg bullet that squeezed inside the near pipe and past Doss, the goal gestating in Jack Bobzien's crosse. Denver extended its lead to 6-4 as the third quarter was reaching its expiration: After ending a Notre Dame possession on a LaPlante save against Cole Riccardi with six seconds remaining in the period, Mike Riis took an outlet pass from LaPlante and steamed down the field, crashing the net without aggravation and throwing the pill past Doss' head to provide the Pioneers a two-goal advantage with only nine-tenths of a second showing on the clock. Unsatisfied with its lean profit, Denver pushed its edge out to three following a simple driving finish from Erik Adamson, his bucket developed from Pace and dotting the scorecard with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation. The Pioneers were undisturbed, and that's exactly where things went sideways rapidly, the broken nature of physics attributable to Perkovic losing his damn mind in a frantic effort to claw Notre Dame back into the game.
Snapping a 19:48 scoring drought, Perkovic blasted an extra-man goal into the cage to draw Notre Dame within 5-7 with 480 seconds allowed for a comeback. Denver pounded in two markers in less than two minutes to stretch the Pioneers' lead to 9-5 with 5:29 flashing on the scoreboard, but then Perkovic really started his sociopathic charge: Scoring four goals in a 2:37 stretch that started with 4:40 remaining of regulation, Perkovic and the Irish shrugged off an insane Wes Berg behind-the-back high bouncer and trailed 10-9 with 123 ticks left to pull square with their former Great Western Lacrosse League colleagues. Trevor Baptiste won the faceoff proceeding Perkovic's fifth goal but Notre Dame's defense stood strong on the possession, burning the Pioneers into a shot clock scenario that evolved into a turnover. With 37 seconds left to finish a huge comeback, the Irish cleared and, out of a timeout at the 22-second mark, spun the ball to Nick Ossello (ostensibly not the first option for Notre Dame) and Ossello delivered: Breaking his defender's soul, Ossello dodged to the middle of the field and buried a low shot under LaPlante, tying the game at 10 with only nine seconds to spare. The rush from the Irish was unexpected and valiant, although it would be the last time that Notre Dame would make the scoreboard blink.
The Pioneers won the opening faceoff of the extra session, but Trevor Baptiste coughed up the ball against John Sexton. Matt Kavanagh pounced on the loose ball and carried it into Notre Dame's green zone, but Carson Cannon was able to strip Kavanagh of the ball before the Irish could call a timeout, generating possession for the Pioneers. After taking a timeout to organize an attempt to crack Notre Dame's elite defense, Miller danced around a defender, moved the ball to Pace, and Pace quickly matriculated the bean to Berg on the right wing. Berg reeled back and uncorked the game-winner, a bullet that found twine and unleashed an emotional celebration on Denver's sideline.
|Estimated Possession Margin||+8 (34)||-8 (26)|
|Estimated Raw Offensive Efficiency||32.35%||38.46%|
|Raw Offensive Shooting Rate||26.83%||24.39%|
|Estimated Turnover Rate||38.24%||42.31%|
|Team Save Percentage||56.52%||50.00%|