April 29, 2018

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — A win Sunday afternoon would have effectively locked up an NCAA tournament invitation for the University of Virginia men’s lacrosse team. The Cavaliers stumbled, though, which means the coming week may include some anxious moments for them.

UVA (11-5) hosts VMI (2-10) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Klöckner Stadium. After that, the Wahoos will have to wait until the NCAA selection show airs next Sunday night on ESPNU to learn if their season will continue.

With victories over such teams as Loyola, Syracuse, Princeton and North Carolina, the Cavaliers have an excellent RPI and a compelling NCAA resume. Their case would be even stronger had they ended the weekend on a winning note.

In the ACC championship game, third-seeded Notre Dame hammered fourth-seeded Virginia 17-7 on a brisk, sunny afternoon at Klöckner Stadium.

The Fighting Irish (8-5) came into the weekend averaging a modest 8.7 goals per game. But they scored 14 in an upset of second-seeded Duke on Friday night and then picked apart UVA’s defense on Sunday.

“It was a terrific weekend, to be able to do that,” said Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan, a former UVA player.

“I thought our guys were loose and fast all weekend, and it was clearly our best offensive output of the season,” said Corrigan, whose father, Gene, is a former Virginia athletics director.

UVA, playing in the ACC tournament for the first time since 2013, upended top-seeded Syracuse 11-10 in a semifinal that ended around 11 p.m. Friday at Klöckner.

“Friday night was a fantastic crowd, a fantastic atmosphere, and we played up to the atmosphere,” said Lars Tiffany, who’s in his second year at Virginia.

“We played probably our best lacrosse of the year. How do we deal with that success? Unfortunately, we didn’t deal with it great, but that’s what we’ve got to learn from.”

The title game turned late in the second quarter. With UVA trailing 5-3, sophomore attackman Michael Kraus intercepted a long clearing pass by Notre Dame goalkeeper Matt Schmidt. Kraus fired the ball ahead to freshman attackman Ian Laviano, who, on the crease, took an uncontested shot with 3:58 left.

Schmidt made the save.

“Definitely I’d like to have that back,” Laviano said. “I’m definitely going to be thinking about that one all week, practicing those one-on-one shots, increasing my angle, and I’ll get that shot back. I know it.”

Tiffany said: “You try not to look at one play, because that would take away from the great effort that Notre Dame had today, but you think about that one.”

An unfortunate sequence turned disastrous for the Cavaliers. Moments later, Laviano was called for a cross-check on Schmidt. But the penalty did not go into effect until play stopped, and play continued until a Notre Dame goal made it 6-3 at the 2:58 mark.

With Laviano on the sideline serving a one-minute penalty, the Irish pushed their lead to 7-3. Then, after the Cavaliers’ 12th turnover of the half, Notre Dame scored again to make it 8-3.

Even worse for UVA, two penalties on its All-ACC midfielder, sophomore Dox Aitken, in the final seconds of the first half gave the Irish possession, with an extra-man opportunity, to start the third quarter.

Notre Dame lead grew to 11-3 before Virginia finally scored again. The victory was the Irish’s seventh straight in this series.

“They whupped us,” Tiffany said. “We got our butts whupped, and give them a ton of credit.”

Four Cavaliers were named to the all-tournament team: Kraus, senior attackman Mike D’Amario, sophomore faceoff specialist Justin Schwenk and freshman midfielder Matt Moore.

Kraus, an All-ACC selection, left the game after a violent collision with Aitken late in the third quarter. Kraus did not return, but he should be fine, Tiffany said.

D’Amario scored three goals Sunday, as did Kraus, who also had an assist. Moore finished with a game-high three assists. For only the second time this season, Aitken was held without a point or an assist.

“They forced Dox into a rough day,” Aitken said.

Aitken wasn’t the only Cavalier who struggled Sunday. Virginia turned the ball over 25 times, and many of those errors were unforced.

“We just didn’t play well,” said defenseman Scott Hooper, one of only two senior starters for UVA. “We didn’t come to play, and I give all the credit in the world to [Notre Dame].”

For the season, the `Hoos are averaging 12.4 goals per game. Only twice have they scored fewer than eight in a game, each time against the Irish.

“They’re a great defense,” said Laviano, who came into the game with 32 goals. “They play well together, and they compete.”

Even so, Laviano said, “I think offensively we shot ourselves in the foot a couple times.”

Aitken agreed. “I think we beat ourselves today. We just didn’t click at all.”

The Cavaliers are hoping to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015. UVA’s players are confident they’ll get good news next Sunday night. If that happens, they may look back on the ACC title game as a valuable learning experience.

“I’d rather this happen now than in a couple weeks when it really matters,” Aitken said.