BALTIMORE – Some might consider Matt Kavanagh vertically challenged. But in regards to Notre Dame lacrosse, he might as well be considered the size of Godzilla.
A 5-foot-8 sophomore attacking forward for the Irish, Kavanagh dipped and dodged, zipped and darted in and around the Maryland goal crease on Saturday. After 60 minutes, Kavanagh, a Rockville Centre, New York, product, lit up the stat sheet with five goals and two assists in Notre Dame’s 11-6 win against Maryland.
His efforts pushed the Irish to Monday’s NCAA Lacrosse Championship title game where they will try to take down 2013 national champion Duke, a victor against Denver in Saturday’s first game.
Kavanagh will take an even forty goals into the final game of 2014.
“I think somebody said he’s had a real hot streak of late … I think it started his sophomore year of high school,” Notre Dame 28th-year head coach Kevin Corrigan said. “I haven’t seen it abate since then. I don’t know if he has gotten better or we’ve just gotten a little bit smarter because he’s a hard guy to cover off-ball; he’s a hard guy to cover inside; he’s a hard guy to cover in two-man game; he’s a hard guy to cover in space; there are a lot of different things you can do with him.”
As the season progressed in 2014, opponents brought different defensive schemes to stop Kavanagh.
“As part of the trip this year, we’ve had to learn — people have schemed against him, and we’ve had to learn how to keep him relevant in different games,” Corrigan added. “I think it’s helped us to give some variety to our offense and to allow him to be effective no matter what people are doing, not matter how they are playing him.”
Kavanagh was one of eight Irish players to register a point Saturday. From the outset — Notre Dame led 10-5 after three quarters and appeared to be a step ahead of Maryland all afternoon.
“I thought we were playing great team offense,” said Kavanagh, who registered his five goals on just 10 shots. “I wasn’t really doing anything differently from a game-to-game standpoint, but the sets that we ran this week in practice, I think we executed them perfectly.
“I was just on the better end of a great offensive team.”
The goals came in a variety of ways.
A slam dunk from point-blank range after a pass from Conor Doyle opened the scoring. Goal No. 2 for the Irish came thanks to a nice feed from Kavanagh to John Scioscia and a big third quarter run saw a pair of goals and an assist that put Notre Dame up 10-5 with 15 minutes to play.
As good as Kavanagh was, the Irish defense was even better. Despite Maryland’s walking wounded Charlie Raffa winning face-off after face-off (he won 13 of 18 through four quarters), Irish defenders were a constant nuisance to Terp attackers. Conor Kelly was also a big presence in front of the net, making 14 saves.
Maryland senior Mike Chanenchuk had very little room all day, scoring his only goal with 6:02 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Terps managed just six goals on 38 shots, and despite winning 15 of 21 face-offs they had 19 turnovers.
“I thought [the Irish] played a great game [Saturday]; they executed very well and just about every facet of the game. They outplayed us in every area,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said. “They played great defense; I thought we got some good looks but it seemed like we are still a little bit stubborn with are shooting.”
Maryland’s biggest problem was a 5-foot-8 attacker.
“[Kavanagh] did a good job of picking his spots,” Tillman said. “When he got his opportunities he made the most of them. He is a terrific player; he’s gotten better every game we’ve seen him and that is the type of performance you want out of an All-American.”
Duke beat Notre Dame 6-5 in overtime in the 2010 NCAA championship game — in Baltimore.
“It’s not the time for me for perspective,” Corrigan said of Monday’s affair with ACC rival Duke. “The perspective is this is the 2014 team’s only chance to win a national championship; I’m not focused on anything else.”