In loss, Irish's Rodgers best player on field

Senior goalie makes 15 saves in lowest-scoring championship in NCAA history

  • Duke players celebrate their 6-5 overtime win against Notre Dame in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse final by holding up the championship trophy at M&T Bank Stadium.
Duke players celebrate their 6-5 overtime win against Notre… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
May 31, 2010|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

When it was over, Scott Rodgers' voice sounded like he had spent the afternoon chewing on, and swallowing, a pint glass full of gravel. His eye black, which was painted on his cheekbones in the style that suggests both superhero and professional wrestler, was partially washed away by sweat, then smeared into his beard. He walked with delicate, weary steps, contemplating what had just unfolded.

His team had lost. He had given up the decisive goal. And yet Rodgers was, by far, the most outstanding player on the field in Monday's NCAA championship between Notre Dame and Duke, a 6-5 overtime victory for the Blue Devils at M&T Bank Stadium.

Such is the life of a goalie. Even when you're brilliant — as Rodgers often was, making 15 dynamic saves with his stick, his chest and even his feet against one of the best attacks in the country — the one goal you can't prevent will likely be the one that lingers. On the first possession of overtime, Duke's CJ Costabile, a long-stick midfielder, came barreling at him with no defenders able to get in his way, and whipped a shot just under the crossbar for the win. It hardly seemed like a fitting ending for a goalie who, for much of his career, has been one of the best in the game.

"You don't really know what you're going to get" in that situation, Rodgers said. "They're coming at you with a 6-foot pole and they can choose to go low or high. We had two guys chasing back, and that isn't what a goalie wants to see. Our game wasn't lost on one play, though.

"It's lost throughout the game."

Still, Rodgers' impact on the outcome was impossible to overlook. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound, broad-shouldered senior became just the fifth player from a losing team to be named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament, and the last time it happened was 1996. Duke's offense came into the final averaging 16.33 goals a game in the postseason, and Rodgers thwarted them repeatedly, helping produce the lowest-scoring NCAA championship game in history.

"It's an absolute crime that the kid only made third-team All-American, and honorable mention All-American" during his career, Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said.

Corrigan acknowledged that Rodgers wasn't consistently dominant this season the way he was as a junior. Injuries and inconsistent play are part of the reason the Fighting Irish nearly missed the NCAA tournament. But Corrigan was also quick to point out that Rodgers' impact on Notre Dame lacrosse can hardly be measured solely by his play on the field.

Rodgers could have gone virtually anywhere after an outstanding Long Island high school career at MacArthur, but he turned down Maryland, Princeton and Syracuse to come to Notre Dame, even though it meant he had to redshirt, then sit on the bench for two full years behind All-American Joey Kemp. He never regretted the decision.

"I've never had a guy on a team be more influential in a non-playing role than what Scott Rodgers was the three years he didn't play," Corrigan said. "He was such a great kid and worked so hard. He came in and knew he had a great goalie in front of him, and he was phenomenal at supporting Joey and his teammates. Then he gets a chance to play and he's off the charts. What do you say about a kid like that?"

You might say he's the kind of player who could end up changing people's perspective on what type of athlete can play goalie. Most netminders at the top level of college lacrosse are smaller guys with quick hands. Syracuse's first-team All-American goalie John Galloway, for example, is 5-11 and just 185 pounds. Virginia's goalie, Adam Ghitelman, is 5-9 and 180 pounds.

"You see some of the small quick guys, and Scott is just as quick as they are," said Mike Creighton, Notre Dame defenseman. "And he takes up twice as much of the goal. If you watched the Maryland game, some of their shooters weren't even putting it on the cage, and it wasn't because they were having a bad day shooting, they were just trying to shoot around Scott."

Rodgers' nickname throughout his career has been the Mayor of South Bend, because it seems he knows everyone on campus. The reason his voice sounded like a low-pitch growl is that he'd spent all tournament screaming encouragement and instructions to his teammates. In the concrete tunnels deep inside M&T Bank Stadium, he folded his muscular arms and tried to put his career in perspective.

"It's not that I'm not upset now," Rodgers said. "I am. But you're playing a game in overtime and someone has to win the game. It could have been us. But the kid made a great play. ... Hopefully other big kids out there like me, if they want to play goalie, they'll get out there and give it a chance."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

http://twitter.com/KVanValkenburg

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