With a young Blue Devil squad traveling to take on the top-ranked team in the nation on the road, no one knew what to expect from Duke Saturday.
The Blue Devils flashed their potential by going toe-to-toe with No. 1 Denver for 51 minutes, tying the game at eight early in the fourth quarter when Mitch Russell found senior attack Jack Bruckner.
But the Pioneers then showed the gap between a youthful team finding its way and a veteran group that is already prepared to contend.
Denver closed the game on a 6-1 run to deal the No. 15 Blue Devils a 14-9 setback at Peter Barton Stadium in Denver. The Pioneers got three goals in 1:21 to quickly make it 11-8 after Bruckner’s tying score, and kept their foot on the gas medal to squash Duke’s late comeback effort.
Bruckner led the scoring for the Blue Devils with two goals and an assist. Junior Justin Guterding and sophomore John Prendergast each tallied two goals as well. All-American attack Connor Cannizzaro led the way for Denver with four goals and two assists and Pioneer star Trevor Baptiste dominated the faceoff X, going 17-of-25 and keeping the ball away from the Blue Devil offense in the fourth quarter.
Duke (2-2) kept it close for three quarters, matching the home team’s physicality and athleticism with its own impressive playmaking.
In the opening minutes of the last period, Denver (2-0) made it 8-7 off a Danny Logan goal set up by Austin French. Although Brucker responded when Russell found him on the crease, the Blue Devil defense got worn down to seal the road team’s fate. Pioneer midfielder Colton Jackson buried a shot into the back of the net to kick-start Denver’s quick three-goal run, and although Guterding momentarily stopped the bleeding with 3:12 remaining, Blue Devil goalkeeper Danny Fowler allowed three more tallies in the final minutes.
Baptiste kept the ball away from the Blue Devils with his skill at the faceoff X and Duke had no answer for the Pioneers as they proceeded to pull away. Although he is only a junior, the Denville, N.J., native is a big reason why Denver has been near the top of the rankings for the better part of his career in Colorado. In 16 games started last season, Baptiste had at least 10 faceoff wins in all of them.
Fowler was under siege at the end of the game, but the senior was a major reason the Blue Devils had a chance to win entering the fourth quarter. As Duke was held scoreless on just five shots in the opening period, Fowler came up with four of his 11 saves and got help from a young Blue Devil defensive unit to keep the deficit at 2-0.
Duke then gained its first lead of the game late in the first half when Guterding, Prendergast and freshman Kevin Quigley ripped off three in a row for the visitors after Bruckner and Cannizzaro exchanged goals to start the quarter. Trailing for the first time, Denver stayed calm, responding with a quick pair of scores from Nick Philips and Cannizzaro to take a 5-4 lead into the second half.
The Pioneers made that advantage 7-5 early in the second half, but the Blue Devil defense stiffened again and Duke pulled within one late in the third period off of a dip-and-dunk goal from sophomore Brad Smith to set up the thrilling final quarter of action.
Although the Blue Devils could not complete the upset, they have plenty of positives to carry forward, including the pair of goals from Prendergast and an early fourth-quarter tally from Sean Lowrie that was set up by Villanova transfer Sean Cerrone to make it 7-7.
Duke will look to play a more complete 60 minutes when it hosts Saint Joseph’s Saturday at 1 p.m.
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