ONE WIN AWAY!
Proving to be more than just a fill-in, Kyle Keenan put Duke on the verge of another NCAA men’s lacrosse championship on Saturday.
In the starting lineup due to Josh Dionne’s season-ending knee injury, Keenan scored four goals as the Blue Devils beat Denver 15-12 in the NCAA Tournament semifinals at M&T Bank Stadium.
Keenan’s team-best scoring day keeps Duke in line for a second consecutive NCAA championship and the third in program history. The top-seeded Blue Devils (16-3) will face Notre Dame, an 11-6 winner over Maryland in Saturday’s other semifinal, in an all-ACC national championship game Monday (1 p.m., ESPN2).
Duke won 15-7 at Notre Dame in an April 5 regular-season meeting.
Led by Keenan, Duke showed its offense continues to be a difficult group to slow down as the Blue Devils have now scored 15 or more goals in 11 consecutive games.
“We always kept our composure, and 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.”
With Keenan scoring four goals and adding an assist and first-team all-Americans Deemer Class and Jordan Wolf scoring three goals each, Duke took the lead for good in the second quarter and led 8-4 at halftime.
Denver (16-3) took advantage of some leaky Duke defense to cut the Blue Devil lead to 11-10 with 13:46 to play. Duke coach John Danowski called on another Kyle — goalie Kyle Turri — to lock it down.
Turri replaced Luke Aaron in goal after Denver’s Wesley Berg beat him low with a shot that trickled through Aaron and into the net.
“Certainly the starter kind of lost his fastball,” Danowski said. “So bring in the reliever. You know, don’t think there’s really too much science to it but we needed a spark and needed something. It just didn’t look like Luke was getting his hands down quick enough and was getting beat.”
Turri is no stranger to important moments on such a stage. He compiled a 14-1 record last season as Duke’s main goalkeeper in a national championship season.
On Saturday, he showed Danowski’s move was sound by recording four saves over the final 13:46 to allow Duke to hold off the Pioneers.
Denver’s first shot against Turri found the back of the net as Zach Miller scored an unassisted goal at 11:09.
With the score 12-11, Denver’s Jack Bobzien was open to Turri’s right with a good chance to tie the game. But Bobzien mishandled the pass and Turri scooped up the ball to save Duke’s lead.
“We just had to get one stop, kind of stop their run,” Turri said. “If we could get the ball to our offense we know our offense is going to take care of business.”
Keenan and Duke’s offense made things more comfortable with a blitz that buried Denver.
Keenan scored off a Case Matheis pass at 8:44. After Brendan Fowler won the face off, Class scored an unassisted goal at 8:29.
One minute, 20 seconds later, Wolf’s pass set up a Chad Cohan goal giving Duke a 15-11 lead.
In the space of one minute and 35 seconds, Duke appeared to break Denver’s spirit.
“You know, we tried our best,” Denver coach Bill Tierney said. “They took advantage. Honestly, we knew they were going to get their goals. I thought the ones that hurt us were the ones in the middle of the field.”
Tyler Pace’s goal at 6:29 gave Denver new life, cutting Duke’s lead to 15-12. Turri made sure Denver drew no closer.
Denver won the faceoff and had momentum, but Turri made a low save on Jeremy Noble. Berg grabbed the rebound to maintain possession for Denver. But, when Berg tried to fire a shot past Turri’s head and into the net, Turri tipped the ball in the air and snagged the rebound in his net.
Turri made two other saves over the final four minutes to close out the win.
Danowski said he will decide today who will start Monday’s championship game in goal.
As for Keenan, he’s one Kyle who knows he’s got a starting role for Duke as part of the Blue Devils powerful offense.
“I got a bunch of great feeds,” Keenan said. “Working with Jordan, Case and Dionne all week on my spacing and just being in the right place at the right time, I was fortunate enough to be there.”