— Nearly three weeks into the 2013 regular season, No. 7 Duke was virtually a game or two away from being eliminated from postseason play. Now, the Blue Devils are only a game away from winning a second national championship in four years.
The Blue Devils' improbable run continued Saturday in dramatic fashion as Duke held on for a 16-14 victory against unseeded Cornell in a Division I semifinal game.
The Big Red (14-4) kept an announced crowd of 28,444 in suspense with a comeback attempt to open the fourth quarter using five goals to make the score 14-12, but Duke junior attackman Jordan Wolf scored his fourth goal of the game with 39 seconds remaining to put the game away for the Blue Devils (15-5).
"You have to have confidence in the system," said Duke goalie Kyle Turri, who was spectacular in goal with 16 saves. "It takes time for everybody to buy into what the coach is preaching but once we do, we see the kind of success we can have."
The Blue Devils are known for late season runs under head coach John Danowski. In his seven years at the school Duke has compiled a 23-5 record in May. Three weeks into this season, the Blue Devils were 2-4 after losing to Maryland, 16-7, on March 2.
Since then, Duke has won 13 of 14 games including playoff wins against Loyola, Notre Dame and now Cornell.
"Once again, it was a team victory with a lot of guys making plays," Danowski said. "I think nine different people scored, a lot of people helped with the victory. That's the way it has been all year. Our guys withstood the plays and hits at the end."
Duke led, 7-6, at the half and then outscored Cornell 7-1 in the third period to open a substantial lead. The Blue Devils punished the Big Red's offense by scoring two extra man goals, and they were also too quick for Cornell's defenders coming from behind the goal. Midfielder Jake Tripucka (three goals) had two goals for Duke in the third period and Wolf and midfielder Christian Walsh also had a goal and an assist in the run.
Cornell also lost six of nine faceoffs in the quarter, and Turri stopped four of Cornell's nine shots.
"It was a combination of things," said Cornell senior attackman Rob Pannell, who finished with a game high seven points. "We had some opportunities early in the third quarter, but their goalie did a great job of making saves. I think we hit every part of his body. When you don't score, we put a lot of pressure on our defense."
Cornell's defense started bending, and finally broke.
"We didn't control faceoffs and our defense started to press which caused some miscommunications," said Cornell coach Ben DeLuca. "Their goalie stood on his head and kept us off the board in some crucial situations. They also have Jordan Wolf and he is a dynamic dodger and scorer."
Despite trailing, 14-7, after the third quarter, the Big Red almost completed a miraculous comeback attempt. Pannell showed why he is regarded as the best college player in the game by scoring four his seven points in the fourth period. His last goal with 8 minutes, 04 seconds remaining not only pulled the Big Red within two goals, it allowed him to become the all-time points leader in Division I with 354 surpassing the previous mark of 353 set by former Duke attackman Matt Danowski, the son of John Danowski and current Blue Devils assistant.
Cornell got within 15-14 on Connor Buczek's third goal of the game with 53 seconds remaining, but Wolf split defenseman Jason Noble and midfielder Tom Trasolini and then scored a empty net goal with 39 second left.
"It was a heartbreaker today," DeLuca said. "The third quarter was really tough for us and made it hard for us to come back. We fought back, came within one, but it didn't break our way."
Turri said: "We knew they were going to make a run and we knew we had to go like crazy but keep our composure. And we did."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun