Nov 23, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Goals from sophomore defenseman Brandon Aubrey and freshman striker Jon Gallagher propelled top-ranked Notre Dame to a 2-1 win over Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday night.
A heavy, driving rain fell for the duration of the match, soaking the grass surface in Alumni Stadium. Standing water in some spots and small puddles in others made even routine passes difficult. Both squads handled the adverse conditions well, but there’s no doubt that the rain heavily affected play.
“We like to play very much a passing game, and [the weather] didn’t really suit us,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark said. “The ball kept getting stuck in the water. It wasn’t the rain in itself, it was just that the field was starting to flood.”
Despite the terrible conditions, Notre Dame managed to mount a consistent offensive attack from the game’s outset. The Irish got on the board in the 29th minute on a penalty kick by Aubrey. The sophomore’s tally was made possible by tremendous individual effort by senior forward Vince Cicciarelli, who gathered the ball outside the box and bulled his way towards the goal, only to be taken down about six yards from the goal line. Interestingly, Aubrey was tapped to take the PK instead of junior midfielder and ACC Offensive Player of the Year Patrick Hodan, who has taken the bulk of the Irish’s penalty kicks this year. Clark said that the decision as to who takes penalties rests among the players, with senior captain Nick Besler having the final say. But the choice is truly a collaborative one and comes down to finding who has the hot hand.
“We’ve been practicing a lot of penalty kicks recently, and there are a few people that can take them,” Clark said. “That was [the players’] decision. I always let them make that call, whoever’s feeling good that day.”
Aubrey validated his teammates’ trust by drilling a shot into the lower left corner of the goal. Ohio State keeper Alex Ivanov guessed correctly, but Aubrey’s shot simply had too much pace, and the Irish took an early lead. The goal was Aubrey’s third of the season.
The edge was short-lived, though, as the Buckeyes answered with a goal of their own in the 33rd minute. Following a tremendous effort by Irish keeper Patrick Wall to knock a deflected free kick over the crossbar, Ohio State pounded in a corner kick that bounced around the goal mouth for a few seconds too long. Buckeyes sophomore forward Danny Jensen knocked it past Wall for his sixth goal of the year.
The second half took up right where the first period left off: a bit sloppy but solid, tough play from both sides. The weather made goal-scoring chances hard to come by, but the defending champions broke through in the 68th minute. Freshman forward Jeffrey Farina advanced the ball deep into the Buckeye half and found a streaking Jon Gallagher, who made a hard run across the box. The freshman striker gathered Farina’s pass, used his speed to beat a lone Ohio State defender, and fired a shot past Ivanov for the game-winner.
“It was crazy with the weather,” Gallagher said. “They’re a tough team to break down and it kind of turned into a long ball game. Jeffrey did a great job to flick it on, and I just ran and scored.”
“Farina did a fantastic job holding [the ball] up,” Clark said of the winning goal. “He played a great ball to Jon, and Jon is just so quick. It was a terrific goal. [Farina and Gallagher] have formed a tremendous partnership, and the two young guys combined once again tonight.”
Wall capped off a brilliant performance with a pair of saves in the match’s final minutes to preserve the victory.
“It was a difficult day to play,” Wall said. “You’ve just got to kind of play through it. Luckily our grounds crew did a very good job. They got the field in the best condition they could.”
Notre Dame advances to the third round of the NCAA tournament, where the Irish will face Virginia. It will mark the third time this season that the Irish will square off with the Cavaliers. Notre Dame tied Virginia, 1-1, in late September in Charlottesville and beat the Cavaliers, 3-0, two weeks ago in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
Virginia is the tournament’s 16th seed and beat UNC-Wilmington, 3-1, in the second round. The Irish and Cavaliers will square off a week from today, November 30, at Alumni Stadium. Kickoff will be at 7:00 P.M.
Needless to say, Notre Dame is looking forward to the opportunity to take one more step towards defending their title.
“We’re looking at it one game at a time,” Wall said. “We win three games, we’re in the Final Four. Once we’re in the Final Four, we’ll just do our best to see what happens. Last year we didn’t lose a game, and this year we plan on doing the same thing.”
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