May 29, 2010

The Associated Press

BALTIMORE -- Notre Dame's improbable run in the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament has taken the Fighting Irish to a place they've never been before: the national championship game.

Notre Dame defeated Cornell 12-7 on Saturday to become the first unseeded team since Massachusetts in 2006 to earn a spot in the title game.

The Irish (10-6) will play Monday against the winner of the semifinal between Virginia and Duke.

Notre Dame ended the regular season by dropping three of five to fall to 7-6. But the Irish received a berth in the postseason tournament anyway, and they haven't lost since.

"I thought we had the talent all year. We were just a little inconsistent," goaltender Scott Rodgers said. "I believed in the team, and I knew we could do this."

Neal Hicks scored four goals, Zach Brenneman had three and Rodgers stopped 16 shots for the Irish - including eight in the first quarter.

Seeking its first victory against Cornell (12-6) in six tries, Notre Dame used a four-goal run to take an early 4-1 lead. It was 6-3 at halftime, and after the Big Red scored twice in succession to make it 7-5 midway through the third quarter, Hicks restored the three-goal cushion by scoring on a rebound.

Rodgers and the Irish defense made sure there would be no fourth-quarter comeback for the Big Red.

"Scott Rodgers did a great job. Give the credit to him and his defense around him," Cornell's Ryan Hurley said. "We were getting great looks, but the momentum never seemed to start rolling."

Cornell's Rob Pannell, who came in averaging a nation's-best 4.59 points per game, was limited to two assists. Steve Mock scored three goals for the Big Red, playing in the semifinals for the third time in four years.

"There's no loss that's easy to swallow throughout the course of the regular season, but there's nothing more difficult than a season-ending loss," coach Jeff Tambroni said.

Cornell became the third consecutive seeded team victimized by Notre Dame. The Irish opened with a win against sixth-seed Princeton, then beat No. 3 Maryland to advance the semifinals for only the second time.

Cornell's Roy Lang converted the game's first shot on goal, but that would turn out to the Big Red's only lead.

The 1-0 margin stood up until Sean Rogers scored with 2:54 left in the first period -- the first of four successive Notre Dame goals over a span of 3:32.