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Goaltending, Defense Clutch in South Bend

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By Jackson Thibodeau, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A cohesive defensive effort composed of lights-out goaltending and clutch stands propelled the Penn State men's lacrosse team to an impressive 8-7 win at Notre Dame last weekend.

"We moved in the direction of playing the defense that we know we are capable of playing," said assistant coach and defensive guru Peter Toner. "A number of guys stepped in at different points of the game, which gave us the chance to win. We played as more of a unit."

The first two games of the season for the Nittany Lions (against Michigan and Loyola) were high scoring, double-digit goal affairs. The high-flying offense provided more than enough to down Michigan, but the defense wasn't able to stop Loyola's attack in a loss at home. Saturday's trip to South Bend, Ind., was a much different story, a defensively-oriented story.

"Loyola exposed a few of our weaknesses defensively and we addressed those things in last week's practices," Toner said. "At Notre Dame we were more consistent across the board."

The game started on a high note for Toner's defense, as the Blue and White didn't allow a single shot on goal for the first 11 minutes of the contest. The first Irish goal came with just under four minutes left in the opening quarter.

Jumping ahead, Penn State held a four-goal lead early in the third frame before Notre Dame began to chip away at it. As the advantage dwindled, the defense stepped up to exhibit their most clutch performance of the season to this point.

Senior goalie Austin Kaut and his frontline kept it a one-goal game and held the Irish attack from equalizing for the final seven minutes. Kaut came up huge, making save after save to deny the chance of overtime.

"Austin played extremely well so when we did make mistakes defensively--he was there to bail us out," Toner said. "He came through in the fourth and made multiple game-saving saves. That's why he's the backbone of our defense."

The reigning NCAA goaltender of the year denied 13 shots in a game that was evenly matched in nearly all facets of the sport. Penn State won nine faceoffs compared to Notre Dame's ten, both teams were 1-for-2 on the man-up, and the Nittany Lions scooped 26 groundballs to the Irish's 25.

This nail-biter went right down to the wire as the hosts had possession in the final minute with a chance to tie it. After a penalty sent junior defenseman JP Burnside to the box with 38 seconds left, the Irish got one more crack at it. A calculated, strategic zone defense forced Notre Dame to throw the ball away--giving Penn State possession and the win.

"After the penalty, we got our group in there and Mike Richards made a really nice play on mad down crashing in on the crease," Toner said. "He instinctively stepped in."

Complacency isn't an option for the squad, as last weekend's road test was just the first of three-straight against top-15 ranked opponents on the road. Trips to Ohio State on Sat., Mar. 1 and Denver on Mon., Mar. 10 remain on the slate for this away stand.

"It was good to see some of those older guys--like Steven Bogert, Tyler Travis and Mike Richards--take a challenge and run with it," Toner said. "There's no doubt we still have tough places to play, but it is good for our guy's confidence to work on things in practice and see it carry into the game and work."

Toner is pleased with the strides the unit made last week, but he knows even more must be done to get a win in Columbus, Ohio.

"Looking ahead to Ohio State, it's another great challenge on the road," he said. "We have to do all the things we did well against Notre Dame but do them even more consistently and do them for 60 minutes or however long the game lasts."

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