Earlier Sunday morning, Duke’s graduating seniors flipped tassels and threw caps as they walked across the grass for commencement at Wallace Wade Stadium. Later that evening, tassels and caps made way for helmets and gloves, and the Blue Devils walked again — this time out of Koskinen Stadium with a place in the NCAA quarterfinals secured.
No. 1-seed Duke was made to work for it against a resilient Delaware contingent in its opening-round matchup, very much in keeping with the enchanting frenzy that has been this year’s NCAA tournament. No. 4-seed Maryland lost to Army and No. 8-seed Cornell got beat in overtime by Michigan, presenting — on paper — the perfect opportunity for the Blue Devils to take control of a shaken bracket. Duke certainly didn’t do that, but its 12-11 win brought it one step closer to Philadelphia’s Final Four nonetheless.
Right off the blocks in the second half, senior long-stick midfielder Tyler Carpenter intercepted the ball on the Blue Hens’ offensive rotation and sent it the other way, culminating in a round-the-crease goal by sophomore attackman Andrew McAdorey after junior midfielder Aidan Danenza’s close attempt hit the side netting. Carpenter assisted in securing the following faceoff, once again allowing McAdorey to curl around and cut Duke’s deficit to 8-7.
“We just needed some juice,” McAdorey said. “Coming out of halftime, we made some adjustments and the coaches made adjustments, our team made adjustments, so we really just had to get back to playing our brand of lacrosse on offense.”
Graduate defender Wilson Stephenson dispossessed his man, eyed up his teammates on the sidelines, flexed and screamed. In the meantime, the ball sailed upfield to senior attackman Dyson Williams who bounced it top-corner. After entering the locker room down 8-5, rusty and in need of goals, the Blue Devils (14-2, 5-1 in the ACC) were all of a sudden level, and in complete control.
As commanding as that early third-quarter onslaught was by Duke, it was at that point but nine minutes of magic after 30 minutes of turbulence.
As the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm, and the Blue Hens (13-5, 6-1 CAA) found themselves up 2-0 within two minutes of the opening whistle. The first of the two was your classic work-it-around crease finish, but the second was planned. Delaware FOGO Logan Premtaj stunned Jake Naso at the dot and turned on the wheels, finding a wide-open Tye Kurtz on the left side for an easy low-handed finish.
Aidan Maguire briefly took that worm before the Blue Hens gobbled it up again via a sequence of defensive miscues that allowed Kurtz to bounce it near-post and complete his first-quarter hat trick with a shallow take that just barely escaped a crease violation.
Maguire, hoping to stem the early bleeding, whacked the ball out of an unsuspecting stick and took it the distance. A few passes later and the rock found junior attackman Brennan O’Neill, whose lateral toss allowed Maguire to slot it top right for Duke’s first point of the day and first real bit of back-to-front cohesion.
“I don't think our guys were having fun in the first half,” head coach John Danowski said. “I think maybe the pressure of the seed was on their minds and it wasn't fun.”
“Really, just keeping the course,” McAdorey said of responding from Delaware’s early lead. “It's a great team, they're well coached and we always knew that we just had to rely on our fundamentals and what we've been doing the entire year. I thought our senior leadership and our leadership from the older guys and our coaches really helped keep everyone even keeled.”
The second period didn’t start much better for Danowski and company than the shock-and-awe first quarter. Delaware built on its 5-3 advantage to snatch another couple quick goals and forced a timeout. Danenza capitalized on a rebound just off the crease to cut it to 7-4, but the Blue Hens’ defense kept making the Blue Devils pay for sloppy passing and faulty groundball play, sapping them of any offensive rhythm.
That rhythm did eventually come, though.
Williams continued to prove his mettle as a lethal marksman on the crease, culminating in three goals and freeing McAdorey up to do what he does best — run, run and run some more.
All that running came in extra handy when the Blue Devils trailed 10-9 in the fourth quarter. McAdorey chased down a loose ground ball and one-hand whipped it back in play on the line, allowing graduate midfielder Garrett Leadmon to snipe it to Danenza for a distance finish that brought Duke level once more.
“[McAdorey’s] motor just doesn't stop,” Danowski said. “Scoring goals [is] awesome, but the way he celebrates, it just is contagious. And the other guys around him, other guys can relax.”
O’Neill — a recently named Tewaaraton Award finalist — has made it somewhat of a personal hobby to make big-time plays in big-time games, and despite tenacity and aggression throughout, it took a while for him to get going. O’Neill was made to wait nearly 53 minutes for his first goal but set up three in the process, including a clever feed on a 3-on-1 break to Williams at the doorstep. The Bay Shore, N.Y., native has been rightfully lauded for his goalscoring exploits, but his improvement as a playmaker — he has 39 assists on the season — is just as responsible for Duke’s 2023 renaissance.
And what of the goal he scored? That one gave the Blue Devils the fourth-quarter lead, and ultimately sent them to the quarterfinals.
“[I‘m] pumped up,” McAdorey said. “It's a great win and at the end of the day, we're playing for the older guys and the fifth years who are graduating. Just to get another week with the guys, that's the biggest thing for us.”
School may be out for summer and diplomas may finally be in hand, but Duke’s next assignment is a daunting one — a Saturday date with red-hot Michigan in Albany, N.Y.
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Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.