The #7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish are currently on a hot streak, winning four of their last five games dating back to April 11th. The streak includes the Irish’s run in the ACC Tournament, where they defeated #1 Duke 14-11 and host Virginia 17-7 to win the program’s second ACC Conference championship, and a 17-5 thumping of Army to close out the regular season.
However, Notre Dame will face potentially their toughest test of the entire season during the first round of the NCAA Tournament. When the bracket was released on Sunday night, it revealed that the Irish will face a familiar foe when they host the Denver Pioneers at Arlotta Stadium in South Bend this Sunday at 2:15 pm eastern time. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU. The winner of this game will advance to the quarterfinals at Hofstra University to face the winner of the #2 Albany-Richmond game being played this Saturday.
This will be the third time in the last four years Notre Dame and Denver will play each other in the NCAA Tournament. The Pioneers ended the Irish’s season last year with a 16-4 victory in the quarterfinal round. Denver also broke Notre Dame’s hearts back in 2015 with an 11-10 overtime victory in the semifinal round.
These two teams meet each other earlier this year when Notre Dame won a thrilling match 11-9 back on March 10th in South Bend. In that game, the Irish got out to an early 4-0 lead and entered halftime with leading 8-3. Facing a six goal deficit with nine minutes to play in the third quarter, the Pioneers went on a five goal run to cut the deficit to one 8:27 left in regulation. The Irish defense stood strong, and Bryan Costabile added an insurance goal with 3:59 left to play.
The goal was Costabile’s third of the afternoon. Brendan Gleason finished that game with four goals of his own, while Notre Dame goaltender Matt Schmidt stopped eight of the 17 shots he faced.
Prior to this game, Denver had won the previous six meetings of the series. Seven of the last 10 meeting between the Irish and the Pioneers have been decided by a single goal, and five of those meetings have gone to overtime.
Who to Watch For on Denver
Like every year, this Denver team is loaded with talent. Ethan Walker has scored 65 points (44 goals, 21 assists) in only 15 games this season. Austin French is not too far behind him with 54 points (26 goals, 28 assists) in 15 games. There is a big drop off in terms of individual points after those two, as the Pioneers’ third highest scorer, Colton Jackson, has 28 points (16 goals, 12 assists) in 15 games, and their fourth highest scorer Colton McCaffrey has 19 (10 goals, 9 assists) in 15 games.
Denver faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste was recently named as a finalist for the 2018 Tewaaraton Award, given annually to the most outstanding player in college lacrosse. Baptiste was also a finalist for the award last season.
Denver has had Notre Dame’s number for most of this decade, and you can expect Denver will want revenge for their loss to Notre Dame earlier this season. However, the Irish are currently one of the hottest teams in all of college lacrosse, and you can expect they want to shed the “Can’t beat Denver when it counts” label once and for all.
This has the potential to be one of the best games of the tournament. If the Irish’s defense can remain steady and slow down Walker and French, I like Notre Dame’s chances. With Costabile and Gleason in the lineup, this team can compete with anybody.
My final prediction is a 10-9 overtime victory for Notre Dame.