Irish surge into NCAA quarterfinals

Notre Dame dominated Air Force on Saturday night to open the NCAA Tournament, putting the Irish in position for another Final Four appearance if it can knock off North Carolina next weekend.

Now Notre Dame gets its shot at a fourth Final Four in the past five seasons.

That’s because Irish lacrosse routed Air Force 15-7 at Arlotta Stadium on Saturday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, setting up a quarterfinal date next weekend with North Carolina in Columbus, Ohio. Win there and Notre Dame (11-3) is off to Philadelphia for Memorial Day weekend to chase the program’s first national championship.

The first step came against Air Force (15-3), which had won 15 straight games entering the postseason. Notre Dame, on the statistical flipside, had lost two of three, blowing fourth quarter leads to North Carolina and Duke. Falling to the Tar Heels cost the Irish an outright ACC title. Falling to Duke knocked Notre Dame out of the ACC Tournament semis in overtime.

There would be no such drama against Air Force, whose winning streak took the Southern Conference title but included just one game against another NCAA Tournament team.

Notre Dame dominated the second and third quarters, building a 13-5 advantage entering the final period. The eight-goal margin was Notre Dame’s third-most lopsided of the season.

Nine Irish players scored, with five goals from sophomore Mikey Wynne and three from freshman Ryder Garnsey. Senior Matt Kavanagh, playing his final game at Arlotta, finished with one goal and two assists, pushing his team-leading total for the season to 29.

The Irish out-shot the Falcons 37-30 and went 17-9 on face-offs.

Notre Dame was lethal a man up, converting 3-of-4 chances with an extra man. Air Force had just two chances with an extra man and didn’t score on either.

Going further in the field means beating North Carolina next Sunday afternoon (May 22) in the quarterfinals, where Notre Dame is 4-2 during the past six seasons. The Tar Heels have advanced this far just three times in that same span and lost all three. North Carolina hasn’t made the Final Four since 1993.

Notre Dame has been to the final weekend the past two seasons and four times in the past six years. Only Duke – eliminated in the first round this year – has made more Final Fours since 2010.

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