Commentary

Instant analysis: NCAA lacrosse semifinals

Originally Published: May 24, 2008
By Quint Kessenich | ESPN.com

Duke and Virginia entered Saturday's semifinal games as the favorites, but Johns Hopkins and Syracuse emerged as victors. The Blue Jays and Orange, which each boast an NCAA-record nine championships, meet Monday (ESPN, 1 p.m. ET)

How Syracuse won:
The Orange outplayed Virginia in the first and fourth quarters, erasing the five-goal lead the Cavs accrued in the second and third periods. Senior captain Mike Leveille was the difference-maker, tallying five goals -- including the game winner in the second overtime period -- and two assists in the 12-11 win. Thanks to Danny Brennan, Syracuse ruled the faceoff X. The Cavs were snakebit, hitting the pipes on a number of shots in overtime.

Leveille, a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist, added to his résumé with his performance in the semifinals, but I still think it's reigning player of the year Matt Danowski's to lose. That said, Duke's loss gives Leveille (and Johns Hopkins' Paul Rabil) one more chance to impress the voters.

How Johns Hopkins won:
The Blue Jays told us their game plan prior to stepping on the field: slow the game down, don't let Duke score on transition, stop the fast break, and lock down Danowski and Zack Greer. They hit everything on their checklist -- and even exceeded expectations on offense. Goalie Michael Gvozden, who was much maligned during the Jays' five-game losing streak during the regular season, was stellar between the pipes Saturday. He finished with 17 saves -- including some big ones down the stretch. Hopkins held Duke scoreless for a 20-minute stretch -- a feat that occurred just two other times this season. Duke didn't play its game; it gave up too many unforced turnovers and shot just 21 percent (the Blue Devils average close to 34 percent.)

Johns Hopkins' game plan was as well-crafted and perfectly executed as I've seen in my 14 years covering lacrosse. But the skeletons of championship weekends past certainly seemed to have an effect on Duke's play as well. The Blue Jays defeated Duke by one-goal margins in both the 2005 and 2007 NCAA title games. Duke was dominant this year, but the Blue Devils were never tested. Johns Hopkins battled through a slate of close games. Ultimately, that lack of experience came back to haunt the Blue Devils.

Closing thoughts
This was the year of one-goal games, so it was fitting that both semifinals were decided in the last five minutes of play by that margin. Expect to see the same on Monday: When these teams met in the regular season, the game was decided in overtime. Hopkins' late-game mistakes gave Syracuse the victory, but we most likely won't see that mistake repeated by the defending champs. These two power programs met four times in the 1980s with the NCAA championship on the line (1983, '84, '85 and '89) with -- you guessed it -- the teams splitting the titles 2-2. The last time they met in the title game, Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala was a defender for the Blue Jays.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN. He can be reached at quint@insidelacrosse.com.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN.

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