BALTIMORE, MD. – The top-seeded Duke Blue Devils completed a successful defense of their title, topping the sixth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish 11-9 to capture their second straight NCAA men’s lacrosse championship at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday.
Senior attackman and Tewaaraton Award finalist Jordan Wolf tallied six points (2 goals, 4 assists) to lead all scorers and was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.
Notre Dame midfielder Sergio’s Perkovic’s five-goal performance was not enough to help his team to outwork the Blue Devils defense led by goalkeeper Luke Aaron who made nine saves to earn the win from start to finish.
It wasn’t the cleanest of offensive performances from either team as they committed a total of 28 turnovers with the Irish committing two more than their Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) counterpart.
With the exception of one draw, Brendan Fowler (13-23) faced Liam O’Connor (10-23) throughout the game at the faceoff X as the two went head-to-head and earned valuable possessions to put their teams’ offenses in motion.
Even with the offensive capabilities that each team possessed, it wasn’t surprising that both went scoreless for seven minutes until Christian Walsh put Duke ahead 1-0 with 8:13 remaining in the first quarter.
Aaron’s counterpart, Irish keeper Conor Kelly, was equal to the task early on, making four saves during the opening quarter and finished with 12 total stops throughout the game.
While the Blue Devils defense played to its disciplined and aggressive style successfully and kept Notre Dame’s shooters on the outside and missing the cage on numerous possessions, Wolf and his teammates played a patient offensive game to eventually mount a significant lead.
Deemer Class and Myles Jones extended Duke’s advantage to three goals while Matt Kavanagh put the Irish on the board after being held scoreless for the first 22 minutes of play.
An outlet clearing pass from Aaron to a breaking Will Haus resulted in the defensive midfielder picking the top corner past Kelly on the fast break that gave the Blue Devils a 5-1 lead by halftime.
It seemed that it would be a poetic run to the podium early on with many similar aspects relating back to when the Blue Devils earned their first national title on the same field five years earlier.
It was back on Memorial Day, May 31, 2010, when the Fighting Irish had the chance to earn their first championship win too, but came up short in a 6-5 overtime thriller that instead gave Duke its first-ever championship.
As it did back then, Notre Dame didn’t make it easy for the Blue Devils, and by the final minute of play in the fourth quarter, only trailed Duke 10-9.
While Wolf, Kyle Keenan (2 goals) and Thomas Zenker (1 goal) added to the Blue Devils lead, Perkovic along with Kavanaugh, John Sciosia (1 goal) and Ben Pridemore (1 goal) powered the Irish offense to outscore Duke 8-6 during the final two quarters.
However, several key factors in all phases of the game combined to secure Duke’s third NCAA title win in the last five years.
Firstly, Aaron made four critical stops in the final quarter of play that allowed Duke to keep the lead with the help of his close defense trio of Casey Carroll, Henry Lobb, and Chris Hipps.
Secondly, Fowler won the critical draw following Perkovic’s goal with 49 seconds remaining that brought Notre Dame to within one goal.
Following Fowler’s clamp, the ball eventually worked deep into the Notre Dame end and Duke head coach John Danowski called a timeout.
On the restart, the ball was in Wolf’s crosse to put the finishing touches on the victory.
As Kelly set-up away from his cage to take his place in the Fighting Irish 10-man ride, Wolf bolted from the back-left corner past two defenders and scored Duke’s empty-net, insurance goal with 23 seconds remaining.
Even while O’Connor won the ensuing faceoff, his shot on the fast break was stopped by Aaron.
Duke earned a free clear on an interference call and maintained possession for the remainder of the game.
The clock counted down and gave the Blue Devils the opportunity to once again wrap their arms around the trophy that they possessed for the past year.