Fresh off their first career appearance at NCAA Championship Weekend, Duke’s seniors, with a little help from the freshmen, took control of Saturday’s semifinal against Maryland, leading their team to a 12-8 victory over the Terps in front of 30,616 at Gillette Stadium.
Duke will face Yale in the NCAA Division I championship game set for Monday. It’s the Blue Devils first championship game since 2014, when they beat Syracuse to win the program’s third title. This will be the program’s fifth overall title game appearance.
“[I’m] very proud of our guys for jumping — executing really well offensively early on, withstanding the run that you knew that Maryland was going to make, and then again executing really well and with a lot of contributions from a lot of people,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “So I thought it was a real team effort, and we’re delighted to be together for another two days.”
Playing in his first Championship Weekend, senior attackman and Tewaaraton finalist Justin Guterding led his team offensively, scoring three goals and three assists. Senior goalie Danny Fowler, another final four newbie, made 12 crucial saves on the defensive end.
“We never really shy away from setting our goal to win a national championship,” Fowler said. “So to get another two days with this group of guys and to get a chance in both of our last years to play for that goal that we set in really what is the epitome of greatness in college lacrosse is you really couldn’t ask for more. You couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to do it with and couldn’t ask for a better place to do it.”
Meanwhile, freshmen were also key in Saturday’s win, as attackman Joe Robertson and midfielder Nakeie Montgomery chipped in with a combined seven points.
“Coach always says at this time of the year the freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore, and you can really see that the way they’re playing. They’re playing confident, Nakeie and Joe offensively have done an incredible job,” Guterding said. “I think Nakeie had three goals in the first half, Joe finished with three, and one that doesn’t really show up in the stat sheet was him riding it back in the fourth quarter. That was a huge play for us momentum-wise, and we were able to keep possession and take a little more clock off. So those guys are really coming into their role and starting to play like Duke men.”
Duke’s midfield offense dominated early, scoring the Blue Devis’ first five goals. Freshman midfielder Nakeie Montgomery scored his first goal dodging against a Maryland short stick and hitting the bottom right corner. Senior Sean Lowrie, a Foxborough native, followed that with his one dodge and shoot.
“A kid from Foxborough is either going to play really poorly or he’s going to play great. But we said to him beforehand, just don’t hide. Just don’t try not to make a mistake. Go out and play,” Danowski said. “I think when he scored, that gave the team a huge lift because of who he is and what he means to the team.”
Graduate transfer Peter Conley, sophomore Kevin Quigley and Montgomery scored the game’s next three consecutive goals to make it 5-0 Duke with 13:07 left in the second quarter.
Maryland score its first goal of the day with 11:36 left in the second half, when Jared Bernhardt scored on an unassisted drive from X to left topside. Freshman attackman Anthony DeMaio followed that at 10:53 scoring on an assist from freshman Logan Wisnauskas.
Guterding answered that run with a tremendous lefty rip coming off a pick mid-box, assisted with 4:21 left in the second. Maryland scored the last two goals of the half — a Wisnauskas on an assist from midfielder Tim Rotanz, and a Rotanz goal assisted by Kelly—to make it 8-5 Duke at the half.
Maryland brought it to within one in the third quarter, scoring the first two goals of the second half to make it 8-7. Duke followed up with two consecutive goals to end the third, one from Robertson on an assist from Guterding and a rip from Reilly Walsh on an assist from Joey Manown to make it 10-7.
Duke scored two more goals in the fourth quarter, a goal from Robertson from Guterding and a Guterding goal assisted by Joey Manown. Maryland’s Jared Bernhardt scored late in the quarter on an assist from Kelly, but Guterding scored with 1:08 left to make it a 13-8 final.
“I thought we did an incredible job with our spacing today,” Guterding said. “Offensively we were — it seemed like we were able to get pretty much whatever we wanted, but that was just executing the game plan and listening to the coaching staff. We were able to beat their short sticks and move it and have open shots. Dan Morris made a bunch of saves, but we knew if we kept shooting, they were going to fall.”
Guterding’s six-point performance moved him into fifth amongst NCAA leaders in all-time in points (348).
Maryland’s offense had its opportunities throughout the game. Senior Connor Kelly finished with one goal and three assists, attackman Jared Bernhardt scored two goals and freshman Logan Wisnuaskas and Bubba Fairman combined for four points.
Duke’s defense played aggressively against the Terp offense though, forcing a game-high 11 caused turnovers. The close unit —senior Kevin McDonough, junior Cade Van Raaphorst, sophomore J.T. Giles Harris—combined for six of those caused turnovers. The Blue Devils also went deep on their defensive midfield, playing five shortsticks and two longpoles.
“They’re very athletic, from top to bottom, some of their roles, their close guys, their shorties, they’re a handful. I know Yale is going to have a tough time beating them. They’re a great group,” Maryland’s Connor Kelly, who finished 1-for-10 shooting against Duke’s defense, said. “They’re talking a lot of defense, but the biggest thing that stands out is their athleticism, but I thought we had a good offense implemented. I’ll take a lot of the blame. I sort of had some costly turnovers, costly shots, and that’s on me.”
Duke’s aggressiveness on defense allowed Fowler to see the ball well, especially in the second half when he made six crucial saves against Maryland’s potential offensive comeback.
“I thought this was Danny’s best game of his career,” Danowski said. “This is not easy, and Connor Kelly is a great shooter, and Bernhardt, and they’ve got tremendous amounts of weapons, and I thought Danny was relaxed and comfortable. Not only did he make saves that we needed but cleared the ball really effectively today.”
Duke will turn their attention to Monday’s title game against Yale, who beat Albany 20-11 win in Saturday’s first semifinal matchup to earn their first ever championship appearance.