With the end of 2018 quickly approaching, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest sports stories of the year. Each day, The Blue Zone will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year in Blue Devil athletics. 

Coming in at No. 4 on our list: Duke men's lacrosse makes a run all the way to the national title game before falling to Yale. 

After failing to reach Memorial Day weekend and college lacrosse’s final four for four straight years, Duke head coach John Danowski and his senior Blue Devils were determined to return to the sport’s biggest stage, one that Duke reached every year between 2007 and 2014. 

In 2018, behind NCAA career goals record holder Justin Guterding, a dominating defense and a rising star in freshman Nakeie Montgomery, the Blue Devils did just that. 

“You come to a school like Duke to make it to championship weekend,” senior goalkeeper Danny Fowler said following the team’s victory in the quarterfinal against Johns Hopkins. “Being a guy who’s played here every year since [2014], I feel like we were handed off a program that it was kind of our job to keep at a high level. So this feels really good to punch a ticket to Boston.”

After finishing the regular season at 13-2 before a disappointing exit to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament, fourth-seeded Duke geared up for a home matchup against a tough Villanova team led by speedy senior John Kluh. 

The Blue Devils got off to a fast start, though, using a 2-0 start in the first quarter and an 8-1 second quarter run to blow the Wildcats open en route to a 17-11 victory in Durham. The win also marked freshman Montgomery’s coming out party, as the Dallas native notched a hat trick after a quiet regular season. 

After dispatching Villanova, Duke matched up against one of the sport’s other blue bloods in Annapolis, Md., taking on Johns Hopkins. 

Thanks to five points from Guterding, including his record-breaking 207th career goal, the Blue Devils once again zoomed out to a two goal lead before extending the advantage to as many as four going into halftime. The Blue Jays could not be contained all game, however, and Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala had his men within striking distance again after a 4-2 run to start the fourth quarter. 

Sophomore Brian Smyth proved the hero for Duke against the Blue Jays, going 18-of-25 at the faceoff X, and scoring an unassisted goal as well. Smyth’s control of the game propelled the Blue Devils to their 14-9 win and appointment with No. 1 seed and defending national champion Maryland in Foxborough, Mass. 

From the confines of Gillette Stadium, Duke went blow-for-blow with the Terrapins, shutting down superstar Connor Kelly and riding the stellar play of Montgomery and fellow freshman Joe Robertson for a 13-8 win and berth in the title game. 

“[Duke] started out fast, and we certainly did not,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said. “I give them credit. We just had a tough time getting our feet under us early, and they made us pay.”

The Blue Devils took an early 4-0 lead, traded goals with Maryland throughout the late second quarter and went into halftime up 8-5. The Terrapins would claw to within one goal in the third quarter before the Duke defense, led by Fowler and junior defenseman Cade Van Raaphorst, shut the door and started the closing sprint for the Blue Devils. 

Robertson’s late goal in the third quarter started a 3-0 run that pushed the lead to 10-7 before Guterding got the exclamation point—his 209th career goal with 6:48 remaining.  

However, against the third-seeded Bulldogs, Duke could not get off to the fast start that punctuated its previous tournament wins. Against a brutal Yale defense, an offense led by Tewaaraton trophy winner Ben Reeves and a dominant faceoff game, the Blue Devils never held a lead, and fell 13-11 as the Bulldogs took home their first national championship. 

Despite several small runs, Duke never could quite claw back into the game as Yale kept the pressure on, eventually taking a five-goal lead in the third quarter that proved too much to overcome. 

Though the Blue Devils fell short of the program’s fourth national title in eight years, the tournament run propelled Guterding to the top three in Tewaaraton voting and capped off a brilliant career for Duke’s all time leader in goals and points in a season. 

READ MORE on Duke's Final Four run:

DOG DAY: Yale outlasts Duke men's lacrosse for first-ever national title

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: Duke men’s lacrosse moves onto title game behind freshman standouts

Duke lacrosse's Nakeie Montgomery's recent breakout showcases sport's evolution and growth

BEANTOWN BOUND: Duke men's lacrosse reaches 11th Final Four with late surge

Duke men's lacrosse takes down Villanova in NCAA opener after dominant second quarter

A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown to date:

No. 10: Duke volleyball earns first postseason bid since 2014

No. 9: Duke women's tennis rides dominant play for a trip to the national semifinals

No. 8: Duke men's golf surprises with a Final Four spot

No. 7: Duke football picks up bowl eligibility in the Miami rain

No. 6: Duke women’s basketball makes Sweet Sixteen run

No. 5: Duke men's basketball's strong Maui Invitational showing