BALTIMORE The Duke lacrosse team has followed its formula of building a large lead, surrendering much of it, switching goalies and producing a burst of offense to advance to the NCAA tournament semifinals.
The Blue Devils repeated it Saturday en route to Monday’s national championship game.
Kyle Keenan scored a career-high four goals, Jordan Wolf added three goals and two assists and Kyle Turri made four saves in relief of Luke Aaron as the top-seeded Blue Devils pulled within a victory of back-to-back national championships with a 15-12 win over fifth-seeded Denver before 30,428 fans at M&T Bank Stadium.
After the Pioneers closed within 12-11, Keenan scored with 8:44 remaining to start a three-goal burst spanning less than two minutes to help Duke (16-3) clinch its third Memorial Day appearance in five years.
“We just had this sense about the team that we were going to push back and make a little run there,” Keenan said. “We were just very calm, especially on offense, and I think that’s that why we were able to stop their run.”
The Blue Devils will meet sixth-seeded Notre Dame, who topped Maryalnd 11-6 on Saturday, for the championship. Wesley Berg scored five goals for Denver (16-3), which had its 13-game winning streak snapped.
It was a breakout day for Keenan, who was making his first start since 2012 and only the fourth of his career. He shifted from the second midfield after senior attackman Josh Dionne suffered a right knee injury in a quarterfinal defeat of Johns Hopkins.
After questions of how Duke would deal with losing one of its most effective finishers, Keenan provided plenty of answers. While not the same sort of player as Dionne (who scored 49 goals this season), Keenan is a natural attackman and a skilled dodger capable of creating problems for opponents.
“He’s a huge part of our offense,” Wolf said. “No one is going to step in like Josh, but we just encouraged Kyle to be himself all week and he was.”
Keenan was especially effective in the second half, when he scored three goals. The last of the bunch provided instant protection from Denver’s rally, and preceded goals from Deemer Class and Chad Cohan that helped close out the Pioneers.
That was the same time the Blue Devils were receiving a boost from Turri, who saw only two shots on goal in about 24 minutes of relief against Hopkins in the quarterfinals. This time, he entered with 13:46 to play and wound up with one more save than Aaron, who had three stops while allowing 10 goals.
“The starter kind of lost his fastball, so bring in the reliever,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “I don’t think there’s too much science to it, but we needed a spark and needed something.”
The primary reason the Blue Devils moved on, though, was again their offense. Duke has reached the 15-goal mark in 11 consecutive games, and so far in the tournament has more goals (54) than it has allowed shots on goal (52).
“When we needed the goals, we stepped up, and our team really needed that,” Duke midfielder Myles Jones said. “It let a little pressure off our defense seeing that when we had the ball we were successful and that, no matter what, if they got a stop for us we were going to get the ball and do something with it.”
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