May 16, 2010

Feature: Unassuming Irish Junior Earl Has Career Game Against Tigers

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PRINCETON, N.J.-- For 22 years Kevin Corrigan has been the boss of lacrosse at South Bend, during which time the Fighting Irish have had five football coaches, going from Lou Holtz to newcomer Brian Kelly.

On the other hand, there's Chris Bates in his first year at Princeton. He succeeded legendary Bill Tierney, who won six national lacrosse titles during his 22-year reign at the famed Ivy institution.

Playing on a picture postcard afternoon, the host Tigers learned there's something to be said for experience, as Notre Dame controlled play much of the day, overcoming a late first half lapse to stun Princeton 8-5 Sunday in an NCAA Division I men's lacrosse opening round tourney match.

The upset victory over the Ivy League champs send the Irish (8-6) into Saturday's quarterfinals against Maryland.

David Earl keyed the victory with a career high five goals, while goalie Scott Rodgers turned aside 14 shots, letting only one get by him in the second half. Jack McBride scored three for Princeton (11-5) and assisted on the other two in a losing effort

"I think the game went just the way we thought it would go," said Corrigan, whose team now gets a rematch against a Terps which knocked them off 7-3 in last year's NCAA first round. "Guys make you look smart when they play like that.

"I think Princeton is a very good team and has a terrific goalie (Tyler Fiorito). But we were able to control the ball a bit and were able to shut them down in the second half."

So what kind of inspirational words did the veteran Corrigan have for his team, after Princeton scored three goals in a 1:54 span late in the half to a 4-3 lead into the locker room?

"I told them not to let it happen again," he deadpanned, getting a laugh. "The bottom line is pretty simple.

"We're not reinventing the wheel. When we gave up a couple of goals it was because we jumped up the field and were out of position. So I really didn't get on our guys."

The message got through, as Notre Dame's sturdy defense completely neutralized McBride and the rest of the Tigers' attack. Princeton was kept board the final 22:47 after McBride put his team ahead, 5-4. Earl's third goal of the day tied it 1:50 later, before Nicolas Beattie scored what proved to be the game winner with 23 seconds left in the third.

Still, Princeton, which had won five of its seven one-goal games--including a 10-9 overtime win over Cornell to give them the Ivy title last week--felt confident it could come back. ``We'd been there before,'' said Fiorito, who made 11 saves, but had no chance early in the fourth when Earl made it 7-5. ``We weren't panicking.

"But Scott played great today. We couldn't put them away and gave up a few."

Enough to justify what some viewed as a debatable selection to the tournament field. "We just talked about if we had the opportunity to play, we needed to take advantage of it," said Rodgers, who came up huge in the second half to make sure Princeton never got a whiff of a comeback, while Earl put it away with two fourth quarter goals. "We felt we were coming together as a team.

"Our defense played great. They've played great all year. All week we prepared against Princeton's offense, which is kind of unique. Today we did it on the field."

To their dismay, the Tigers couldn't say the same, as Bates' wrapped up his first year at the helm after coming over from Drexel, feeling his club didn't put its best paw forward. "We're disappointed and would like to have this one back,'' he said. "We don't advance and that reality is tough to stomach.

"I don't mind losing, but I don't think we played particularly well. We didn't do enough to keep our season going. I feel for our seniors. But I hope this bodes well for the future."

For Notre Dame and Kevin Corrigan, the future is still now, though they'll go back for a few days before heading back here. ``We've been up and down all year,'' he said of a team that went just 2-4 in the Big East. ``But we've rarely played badly the entire game

"We look at this as a gift. Don't be nervous. Be excited."

Mission accomplished, meaning the man who's been around campus longer than anyone now has another week to continue to ``Wake up the Echoes.''