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Gola helps prove it’s Notre Dame’s time in final

RADNOR — The Academy of Notre Dame had 11 seniors in uniform for its Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association lacrosse championship game against two-time defending champion Agnes Irwin Thursday afternoon.

Despite all that experience, the Irish players weren’t very familiar with playing their last game at Cabrini University’s Edith Robb Field, the site of the tournament finale.

The players began warmups, but then a rainstorm pushed the start of the contest back half an hour. When the first half began, the Irish were still in get-ready mode.

After a long first half, in which the Notre Dame players found themselves trailing throughout, things began to click in the second half.

With a dominant final 25 minutes, the Irish (18-3) claimed a 12-10 decision and their first PAISAA lacrosse championship.

“Being new in the finals, we were a little nervous at the start,” fifth-year Irish head coach Xan Zimatore said. “It took a lot of the first half for us to wake up. I knew our seniors were happy about getting here today, and they wanted to make the most of this chance.

“We have 11 seniors, and they’ve been great leaders. I think since we got knocked out last year by Agnes Irwin, their goal was to beat them this year.”

Losses in the last two semifinal rounds to eventual champion Agnes Irwin stayed fresh in the memories of a number of Irish players.

“We were happy to be here after losing to them in the semifinals two years in a row,” senior defender Belle McHugh, one of the team’s captains, said. “Our theme this year was ‘This Is It.’ And we did our best to play our hardest and get things done.

“We might not have been able to beat Episcopal (Academy) in our Inter-Ac games. But we did get to win the last game of our season, and it will be something for us to remember.”

Notre Dame entered the tournament as the top seed, with Episcopal Academy, the Inter-Ac champion at 18-1, passing on the championships while missing players who are away for academic trips. The Owls earned the second seed.

Agnes Irwin freshman Marissa White scored three goals — including her 100th of the season — and added an assist, and Julianne Carey and Natalie Pansini chipped in two goals apiece for the Owls, who led at halftime, 6-3, after Pansini’s first goal, which came 19 seconds before the break.

Notre Dame started the second half with five goals in less than five minutes. Georgie Gorelick sandwiched a pair of scores between an eight-meter effort from Hannah Bodner. The second Gorelick goal was the 100th of the junior’s career.

“I didn’t know I was that close to 100,” Gorelick said. “Getting that goal and winning this championship gives me two special memories to take out of this game.”

Then it was time for senior Claire Gola, who finished with five goals and one assist, to take over for the Irish. Her goals 20 seconds apart gave ND an 8-6 advantage with 20 minutes to play.

Agnes Irwin got even at 9-9 with 16 minutes left after goals by Emily Wills and Natalie Corkran. Gola answered, assisted by Mikayla Dever, two minutes later, and Bodner scored again to keep the Irish in control.

“It was all about finishing strong for the seniors,” Gola, who will play at Boston University, said. “We’d lost some games with Agnes Irwin before, but we were able to beat them each time we played them this year.

“We knew we could take advantage of our 1-vs-1 matchups. We switched things up on draw controls because we knew Maggie (O’Brien, who had five of her eight draw controls in the second half) would be there to get the ball.”

A 9-4 advantage in draw controls after halftime gave Notre Dame much more possession time than in the opening half.

Agnes Irwin had its second-half opportunities cut down by solid Notre Dame defensive play as well as eight turnovers. Sophomore Paige Crowther turned away 11 shots in goal for AIS.

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