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Duke Lax Looking for Elusive First Title

Duke was finally on the good end of a one-goal game at the Men’s Lacrosse Final Four yesterday. After a number of heart breakers on the biggest stage the last several years the Devils scored the decisive goal with 12 seconds remaining to claim the rubber match against top-ranked Virginia.

Full disclosure here, the only lacrosse I get to watch is when they finally put the final four on ESPN around this time every year. But Duke’s annual entry has afforded me a few games with which to compare. In general it was kind of a sloppy game - a lot of turnovers and foolish penalties that should be easy to avoid. (offsides, too many men on the field) Duke had a terrible time simply clearing the ball - the transition from getting it on defense into the offensive zone has to be done in a certain amount of time or its a change of possession. Duke’s relative weakness with a freshman in goal was also an issue: missing some stops that the announcers seemed to think more routine and contributing on a number of occasions to failed clears. But the Devils offset that by winning 19/30 face-offs (similar to their 18/28 domination in the back-alley whuppin they put on the Tar Heels the previous weekend). Duke was also sparkling on man-advantage/penalty situations, converting 4-5 chances.

Virginia seemed to be in control as the scored the first goal of the 2nd Half to take an 8-5 lead. But then Duke tallied 7 straight to surge to a 4 goal lead. I have to say that I really like the pattern in lacrosse where after a goal it goes to a 50/50 face off situation. It’s the kind of thing that makes huge runs like the one Duke had possible. One team can effectively dominate possession and build huge momentum. This match-up was also a clear demonstration that face-offs are not just the two combatants over the ball, but much more of a group effort of the three players involved in the scramble. In the decisive run Duke really worked together well to control the ball time and time again including an amazing scramble that led to a long-stick goal by the Devils.

But give the Cavs credit, they fought back valiantly in a seesaw 4th period to tie the score with under 2 minutes to play. With all the momentum swinging the Hoos way, Duke won the all important face-off once again. All-American Ned Crotty, who had been held in check/used as a decoy much of the game, then danced behind the goal in a cat and mouse game with the goalie and found the other half the dynamic senior duo, Max Quinzani, streaking in front of the cage for the game winner. With all the brouhaha surrounding their own scandal this season, it must be an especially hard pill to swallow for UVa. They finish the year with only two losses - both to Duke. Virgina was looking for a story book finish to the year, but Duke took out the editing pen much like they did to Butler last month.

Except for the Season-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, Duke has been in the final four 5 straight times: 3 times falling to Johns Hopkins in one-goal affairs and last year running into a the Syracuse buzz-saw.Perhaps the 5th time will be more kind to the Dukies . But they will face a red hot goalie and a hard-nosed defensive team in Notre Dame. It will be strength against strength facing a potent Duke attack. Notre Dame beat Duke early in the season - part of the Devils sluggish 2-3 start. But Duke is red hot at the moment, winning 13 their last 14 and averaging over 15 goals a game in that stretch. Either way one of the schools will claim their first lacrosse championship on Monday. GO DUKE!