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Rocket power: Jack Bruckner's hot start, strong defense power Duke men's lacrosse to key win against No. 4 Notre Dame

<p>Senior Jack Bruckner scored three goals in the first quarter as the Blue Devils built a 4-1 lead that they never relinquished.&nbsp;</p>

Senior Jack Bruckner scored three goals in the first quarter as the Blue Devils built a 4-1 lead that they never relinquished. 

Facing a Notre Dame program that had upended the Blue Devils four straight times in Durham, Duke wanted to get off to a strong start with second place in the ACC on the line after falling behind 6-1 to then-No. 18 North Carolina last week.

And with senior Jack Bruckner leading the charge, the Blue Devils accomplished that goal handily for their first top-five win of the season.

Bruckner posted a first-quarter hat trick to lead No. 10 Duke to an 11-8 win against the No. 4 Fighting Irish Saturday afternoon at a packed Koskinen Stadium. With a raucous crowd enjoying a physical battle, the Blue Devils took an early 4-1 lead, then scored the last two goals of the third quarter to seize a commanding 10-5 advantage. Bruckner finished with four goals on just seven shots, and senior goalkeeper Danny Fowler and the Duke defense suffocated Notre Dame’s star trio all afternoon long.

“The first quarter was an emphasis all week,” Blue Devil head coach John Danowski said. “We practiced the first quarter segment for 10 to 15 minutes of every day. Just emphasizing three or four things that we thought we should focus on in that first quarter... then we give up a goal in the first minute, but the kids did a great job of handling that.”

Despite facing a stiff challenge in covering Notre Dame stars Mikey Wynne, Ryder Garnsey and Sergio Perkovic, the Duke defense made life easy for senior Fowler, who shined again with 10 saves. The Fighting Irish trio was limited to six goals thanks to the considerable efforts of close defenders JT Giles-Harris, Brian Dunne and Cade Van Raaphorst.

As the defense locked Notre Dame (5-3, 1-2 in the ACC) down on one end, the Blue Devil offense got scoring from a platoon of players following Bruckner’s first-quarter explosion. After putting up solid numbers to this point in the season, freshmen Kevin Quigley and Reilly Walsh became genuine dodging threats from the top of the restraining box for the first time in their college careers.

Both players displayed impressive shots on the run to beat both All-ACC goalkeeper Shane Doss and Owen Molloy, who entered in relief of the beleaguered Doss at the end of the first quarter with the road team down 5-3.

Duke (9-3, 2-1) found itself facing an early one-goal deficit when Wynne scored for the Fighting Irish less than a minute into the game, but the Blue Devils quickly found their bearings. Bruckner began his first-quarter tear by laying down a rocket shot to test Doss that found the right corner before the goalkeeper could even move.

That theme continued, as Bruckner scored three of Duke’s first four goals with a variety of moves, from turnaround jump shots to dumping loose balls just past the goalkeeper and outside rips on the run.

“We put a lot of emphasis on the first quarter after last week,” Bruckner said. “The [scout team defense] prepped us all week. When we’re shooting on [Blue Devil goalkeeper David McCann], we have to make sure to put it in the corners and good shots go. I think today we were just hitting them.”

Notre Dame clawed back into the first quarter with goals from Perkovic and Garnsey, but once again, Duke had the answer. Although he struggled early, senior Kyle Rowe battled back to win a critical faceoff and get the ball to Walsh, who found himself with his hands free and room to put the ball past Doss in the far corner to give his team a 5-3 lead after 15 minutes.

The second period was characterized by more physical play, as the Blue Devils racked up several penalties but maintained their lead by holding the Fighting Irish extra-man unit to 0-for-4 for the game. Wynne and Duke sophomore Brad Smith scored the only goals of the second quarter as the intensity rose.

After the first quarter was a coming-out party for Duke’s freshman midfielders, the third quarter belonged to midfielder John Prendergast. Taking a career-high 10 shots and a directive to be more aggressive to heart, Prendergast notched a pair of goals with deft movement in the midfield and a willingness to take shots on the run. The sophomore, who played sparingly last year, was able to stymie any Notre Dame momentum with his back-to-back goals, which were separated only by a quick score by Fighting Irish midfielder John Sexton and put the home team up 9-5.

“The past few games, you’ve seen that we’ve switched up the [midfield] lines a little bit,” Prendergast said. “The lines are pretty balanced and athletic. Both of them space well for each other. I think that individual matchups were a key for this week with our middies just breaking down defensemen one-on-one, moving the ball forward and backwards and it showed in the scoreboard at the end of the game.”

With a five-goal lead entering the final quarter, thanks in large part to a 20-15 edge in ground balls and Fowler’s ability to track Notre Dame’s favored outside shots, the Blue Devils suffered through sloppy play for the final 15 minutes.

Duke turned the ball over five times in the closing period and allowed the Fighting Irish to draw closer. Although Perkovic scored just 40 seconds into the fourth quarter, the next goal for either team came 11 minutes later when Garnsey got inside of Van Raaphorst to beat Fowler low. But Bruckner answered shortly after to ice the game before the Fighting Irish managed to squeak one more goal onto the final line with a quick shot with just three seconds remaining.

“We have more athletes that stepped up this year in Cade Van Raaphorst and JT,” Fowler said. “Everyone has taken their lacrosse IQ to the next level. Defensively, we have a solid plan every week and we have more confidence this year.”

With momentum from two consecutive ACC wins squarely in hand, Duke will await No. 12 Virginia for its conference regular-season finale next week.

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