Kyle Turri finished his first season as a full-time starter with a 14-1 record.
Julia May / The Chronicle
Kyle Turri finished his first season as a full-time starter with a 14-1 record.

PHILADELPHIA—Kyle Turri was never supposed to play in the national championship game.

Initially, his spot was reserved for senior Dan Wigrizer. In 2010, as a freshman, Wigrizer led Duke to its first national title in program history, becoming only the sixth true freshman in NCAA history to go all the way as a starting goaltender.

So the net was all Wigrizer’s again for his sophomore and junior seasons. He led Duke to its fifth and sixth consecutive NCAA semifinal appearances in 2011 and 2012, and was ready to return again in 2013 for his senior campaign. This year, making the postseason had added meaning for Wigrizer, since championship weekend was slated to take place in his hometown of Philadelphia.

“To be home and to potentially win a championship in front of the home crowd… in the city where I grew up playing lacrosse—I could not ask for a better way to end my career,” Wigrizer said. “Being able to finish [in Philadelphia] is the best experience I could possibly dream of.”

But six games into the 2013 season, the Blue Devils were 2-4. And Wigrizer, who had started each of those six games, had suffered one concussion too many after Duke’s March 2 loss against Maryland.

In stepped Kyle Turri.

It wasn’t as though Turri had no experience. He started three games during his freshman season in place of an injured Wigrizer and had relieved the senior along with freshman Luke Aaron and sophomore Ben Krebs as a part of a four-goalie system that head coach John Danowski used during Duke's early-season struggles.

Turri was also no stranger to championships. He led West Islip High School to the New York state championship during his senior season in 2011. His older brother, Justin, a two-time All-American, was Wigrizer's teammate on Duke's 2010 national championship squad. And as a rising sophomore, Turri won a gold medal in Finland at the U-19 World Championship as a member of the United States Men’s National Team.

“When it was time for Kyle to take over when Dan had to step down, it wasn’t absolutely new territory for him,” Danowski said. “Kyle is a winner.”

But Turri’s first game as Duke's new full-time starter provided the ultimate test. His foe was then-No. 4 Loyola, the defending national champions. The Greyhounds had beaten Wigrizer the previous season, when he surrendered seven goals while making only one save in two quarters of work.

The Blue Devils' new netminder made his presence known immediately. Loyola scored with 1:13 remaining to cut Duke's lead to 9-8. But Turri and the defensive unit held off the Greyhounds to secure the Blue Devils’ first victory in nearly three weeks.

“We were certainly delighted with [Kyle’s] performance,” Danowski said after the game. “Your team is always a work in progress.”

Turri would continue to be hot in the net, posting a 9-1 record throughout the rest of the regular season.

“I was just trying to get better each game,” he said. “I had a few games where I played pretty well and a few, not so much. But the coaches and I came to work every day to get better.”

Turri continued to play with confidence heading into the postseason. However, after making 12 saves in a double-overtime win against Loyola in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Turri made only two against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. But arguably his biggest save of the tournament came with 3:18 left against the Fighting Irish.

With the Blue Devils down by one goal, Turri stopped Notre Dame attack Sean Rogers’ shot from point-blank range. His outlet pass to Duke midfielder Greg DeLuca set up a transition opportunity and gave Jordan Wolf the opportunity to set up Josh Dionne’s game-tying goal. Midfielder David Lawson scored the game winner for the Blue Devils less than a minute later.

“We wanted to play for 60 minutes,” Danowski said of Turri’s performance. “We certainly don’t script these endings…. Kyle Turri, while he didn’t have a great day in the goal statistically, comes up with a big save on the outlet. He keeps his poise and allowed us to score the game-tying goal.”

Turri was a different goaltender against Cornell in the NCAA semifinals. One week later, he dazzled with a career-high 16 saves, including four in the fourth quarter to keep a resurgent Big Red offense at bay.

“Early on it took me awhile to get settled in, but I felt like I was seeing the ball well,” Turri said. “I was pretty happy about getting my saves up…. We just had to hold them off for the last few minutes… and keep our composure.”

Kyle Turri was never supposed to play in the national championship game.

But, 14 games after replacing Wigrizer, there he was.

Stepping onto lacrosse's biggest stage for the first time, Turri was unable to stop a sizzling Syracuse offense in the game's opening minutes. Although he notched four saves in the first quarter, the Orange recorded four goals on 15 shots. The Blue Devils found themselves in a 5-0 hole 42 seconds into the second quarter—their season on the brink.

“[Coach Danowski] told us to relax,” Turri said. “It was a 60 minute game and we knew they were going to have a run in them. We knew we were too. We weren’t just going to step back.”

So Turri saw the ball better. He recognized the outside angle shots and the bad angle shots. He relaxed and he did not step back.

With Duke down 6-5 going into the third quarter, Turri held Syracuse to only one goal for the next 33:36. When Syracuse briefly threatened the Blue Devils’ lead in the fourth quarter, with back-to-back goals by star midfielder JoJo Marasco, Turri shut down the offense, making five stops in the final period.

“I realized [we were going to win] with about four or five minutes left,” Turri said. “I still got nervous. I always get nervous, even with a six goal lead because you never know what could happen. But with four minutes left, I knew.”

Kyle Turri was never supposed to play in the national championship game.

But there was Kyle Turri, hoisting Duke's second national championship above his head after the clock struck zero.