"I've said this from the beginning: Winning or losing a game doesn't mean you're a good person or a bad person," the coach said. "In this particular case it would be easy to think that it does. But it's not how you perform on an athletic field for two hours."

Senior attackman Matt Danowski, the coach's son, said the players began the season trying to make a statement about who they were. "Maybe guys were putting too much pressure on themselves thinking a loss would be the end of the world," he said.

But he said he believes the team has settled down and is focused, as it should be, on its play.

McDevitt, who bore two parallel gashes near his temple after taking a knee to the head in Sunday's game, recalled that Duke players were in limbo this time a year ago. As the committee prepared its recommendations on whether to reinstate the team, McDevitt and 11 other rising seniors tried to keep the underclassmen and recruits from abandoning Duke.

"We understand if you don't want to get involved in this situation because it is a little chaotic," McDevitt recalled telling recruits by phone. "But I want to let you know that if you do [attend], it'll be the greatest decision of your life."

Four recruits changed their minds after the rape charges and were released from their commitments by Duke. But nobody on the team transferred, and that was a key, players said, to this season's success.

"I think we realized at the darkest hours of last spring that we could really trust one another, that we could lean on one another," said Ed Douglas, a team co-captain for whom the final four is a homecoming because he attended Baltimore's Gilman School. "I think that was borne out in the fact that no one transferred. I think that really brought us closer together."

Advancing to Baltimore is a milestone for Danowski, who never made it to the final four during 21 seasons coaching at Hofstra.

Danowski was hired after Mike Pressler resigned under pressure after the rape charges became public and after a player joked in an e-mail about killing strippers - a reference to a movie, American Psycho.

Do it for 'Coach P'
Many of the players have said since that they made a mistake in holding a party at which strippers were hired. Some say their bad judgment cost Pressler, who had been at Duke 16 years, his job.

"There's no doubt about it, this is bittersweet for Coach P," McDevitt said. "We're still his team; everybody in the locker room will say that. We're going on with Coach Danowski with Coach Pressler in mind."

Pressler is now coaching at Bryant University in Rhode Island, and some of the Duke lacrosse parents traveled there to watch his first game. Pressler, who declined to be interviewed, has said he is proud his players kept the team together after everything that occurred.

The elder Danowski acknowledged it took time for Duke to gel given the turmoil, distractions and the instinct to try - perhaps too hard - to prove it was a good team. Although the criminal case is over, its aftermath rages on in the form of campus debate over whether faculty members and the media rushed to judgment against the players.

Two years ago, Duke advanced to the title game before losing to Johns Hopkins. McDevitt said it's hard to know how this final four will unfold.

"We talked in the beginning of the season about normalcy, trying to get things back to normal," he said. "And it was never normal. It still isn't normal."
Tomorrow
At M&T Bank Stadium

• No. 3 seed Johns Hopkins vs. Delaware, noon, ESPN2

• No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 Cornell, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

Monday
At M&T Bank Stadium

• Semifinal winners, 1 p.m., ESPN

jeff.barker@baltsun.com