<
>

Duke's furious rally tops Cornell; Johns Hopkins plods past Delaware

5/27/2007

BALTIMORE -- The Duke lacrosse team has taken its season of
redemption to the brink of a championship.

The top-seeded Blue Devils blew a seven-goal lead, then got the
winner from Zack Greer with 3 seconds left to beat previously
unbeaten Cornell 12-11 Saturday and advance to the NCAA Division I
title game.

Duke will seek its first championship Monday against Johns
Hopkins, which defeated Delaware 8-3 in the lowest-scoring national semifinal game in NCAA history.

The first game was a plodding affair, but the Duke-Cornell
matchup turned out to be a classic. After the Blue Devils (17-2)
let a 10-3 lead get away, Greer scored his fourth goal of the game,
taking a pass from Peter Lamade and spinning past defenseman Danny
Nathan before scoring in front of the net.

"It was an unbelievable pass, right on my stick. All I had to
do was turn and throw it in," Greer said.

The two games drew a national semifinal record crowd of 52,004.

Two years ago, the Blue Devils reached the championship game for
the first time. But their 2006 season was canceled following a team
party in which a stripper claimed she was assaulted by three Duke
players.

The trio were charged with rape, kidnapping and sexual offense.
The rape charges were dropped in December, and the case finally
collapsed in April when North Carolina prosecutors declared the
three players innocent.

Under first-year coach John Danowski, the Blue Devils have since
made up for lost time. After losing twice in the regular season,
they breezed past Providence and North Carolina in the playoffs
before meeting Cornell, which won at Duke 7-6 on March 20.

"We lost our season last year and came back with a lot of
talent," goaltender Dan Loftus said after stopping 16 shots. "I
don't think anyone on our team didn't think we couldn't make a run
for the national championship. We're here, and we're just trying to
make the best of it. Thank God we won today."

In the rematch against Cornell, the Blue Devils (17-2) scored
eight straight goals to turn a 3-2 deficit into a seemingly
insurmountable lead with three minutes left in the third quarter.

But Cornell answered with a 8-1 run, drawing even on a goal by
Brian Clayton with 17 seconds to go. Greer then scored his
playoff-record 16th goal this spring.

"Our guys didn't give up, didn't despair and made a play at the
end of the game," Danowski said.

Dave Mitchell had four goals for Cornell (15-1), which came in
leading the nation in scoring average (14.2). The Big Red, however,
went through an uncharacteristic 29-minute drought during Duke's
8-0 run.

"It's frustrating to go out this way when we thought we had
such a great chance to advance," senior defenseman Mitch Belisle
said. "But at the same time, it was a special season."

In the first game, Hopkins used a stifling defense and the
goaltending of Jesse Schwartzman to eliminate surprising Delaware.

Stephen Peyser and Michael Kimmel each scored three goals for
the Blue Jays (12-4), who never trailed in reaching the title game
for the 17th time. The last time the Blue Jays made it to the
championship game was in 2005, when they beat Duke 9-8.

This was Hopkins' 27th trip to the semifinals. Delaware (13-6)
was in its first national semifinal. Experience -- and the superior defense
-- won out.

"I thought we played a spectacular game defensively and very
good game in goal. I thought we were very good on the faceoffs,"
Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said. "But I thought we were poor
offensively. We didn't have one of our better days."

Schwartzman finished with 10 saves as the last line of a Hopkins
defense that held the Blue Hens nine goals under their season
average.

"It was kind of a total team effort," Schwartzman said. "Our
defense limited their opportunities. They took some shots I was
able to see, and I was able to save most of them."

Hopkins pulled away with a three-goal surge, making it 6-2 early
in the fourth quarter. Tom Duerr and Kimmel scored for the Blue
Jays during a 42-second span in the final minute of the third
period before Peyser scored with 14:05 left.

Delaware's Alex Smith, who holds the NCAA season and career
record for faceoffs won, took only seven of 15 after going one of
five in the opening 30 minutes.

"I felt in the first quarter they were anticipating the whistle
well," Smith said. "They went on the whistle, they went early and
they did a great job against me."

Hopkins went up 3-1 early in the third quarter on a goal by
Kimmel. Delaware when J.J. Moran scored off a pass from Jordan
Hall, who had the game's lone assist. That made it 3-2, but it
would be the Blue Hens' last goal for nearly 22 minutes.

The Blue Jays held Delaware scoreless for the opening 25 minutes
and led 2-1 at the break.