At this point, Duke may want to start booking its hotel rooms for the Final Four at the beginning of the season to save some money.
For the eighth year in a row, the Blue Devils will move on to the Final Four of the NCAA Championship after defeating Johns Hopkins 19-11 Sunday at Delaware Stadium in Newark, Del.
Led by a combined nine goals from seniors Jordan Wolf and Josh Dionne—who left the game after suffering a knee injury in the second half—Duke dominated the Blue Jay defense for the entirety of the contest, as they began and concluded the game with runs of six and five unanswered goals, respectively. But such a decisive victory was far from certain in the days leading up to the match.
“This game in preparation scared the heck out of us," head coach John Danowski said. "We knew it was going to be a 60-minute battle. With that being said, I couldn’t be more proud of the group of athletes representing Duke.”
The Blue Devils (15-3) set the pace in the opening quarter, jumping out to a 6-0 lead with five different Duke players finding the back of the net in the first ten minutes. By the time John Hopkins' Rob Guida connected on a shot to put his team on the board, there was only 4:19 left in the quarter.
The Blue Devils' attack did not let up in the opening 10 minutes of the second quarter either, outscoring the Blue Jays 5-2 to give Duke a 12-5 cushion. But Johns Hopkins (11-5) rattled off three straight scores to close the half and cut the deficit to four.
"We slid a little too quickly in that second quarter," Danowski said. "We gave up two man-down goals and we gave up one off the faceoff. So we're giving up goals in these variety of ways, we just wanted to play in the box. It was what we had prepared for all week. You give terrific lacrosse players an opening, an opportunity and certainly the Hopkins kids took care of those."
The Blue Jays made things interesting by opening the second half with two goals from sophomore Holden Cattoni, pushing their streak of unanswered goals to five and closing the Blue Devil lead to 12-10. Then Wolf took over the game.
"At halftime, Jordan got the team together before the coaches did and said, 'Hey, we're not losing here. We're up by four. Let's take a deep breath and let's go,'" Danowski said. "So that was more player driven than it was anything from the coaches."
The senior attackman was responsible for four of the game's next six goals. By the time his dominant stretch concluded with 7:22 left in the fourth quarter, Duke owned both a 17-11 lead and the momentum.
Although Wolf's stretch to close the game was impressive, the senior who was not the only major factor for the Blue Devils in the final 24:16 of play. Junior goalie Kyle Turri replaced sophomore Luke Aaron following the John Hopkins goal that cut the lead to two. Turri—the starter on last year's championship team who lost his job to Aaron earlier in the season—allowed only one goal and registered a save to close out the game.
"I think we get a little bit crazy about switching goalies. We switch attackmen, we switch midfielders [and] we switch defensemen," Danowski said. "We have several competent goalies. The best one may be a [sophomore]. So why not if Luke is not feeling it or it's just not happening for him?"
The entire defense played a tight second half, limiting the Blue Jays to three goals on 10 shots in the final two quarters, with only two shots on goal with Turri between the pipes. Aggressive defense by Duke forced Johns Hopkins into eight turnovers in the second half, after the Blue Devils generated just two takeaways in the first 30 minutes.
“We first came out and played well,” Danowski said. “We knew they were going to make a run. The guys withstood the run and played with tremendous poise and maturity at the end, which isn’t something we haven’t always had this season.”
Duke has made the Final Four in every season of Danowski's tenure and are now two wins away from repeating as national champions. The Blue Devils will take on Denver Saturday at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.