Fifth-seeded Denver had faithfully stuck to a goalie rotation, but it was a change in the cage that helped top-seeded and reigning national champion Duke emerge with a 15-12 win in an NCAA tournament semifinal at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Saturday.

After sophomore Luke Aaron allowed a goal to sophomore attackman Wesley Berg that allowed the Pioneers to close the gap to 11-10 just 74 seconds into the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils countered by pulling Aaron for junior Kyle Turri. Coach John Danowski said the time was right for a goalie switch.

“The starter kind of lost his fastball, so bring in the reliever,” he said. “I don’t think there’s really too much science to it, but we needed a spark and needed something, and [it] just didn’t look like that Luke was getting his hands down quick enough and was getting beat. I’m going to say the first 10 goals, they probably had eight dunks. They were right inside. They were on the crease. But at some point you make that decision.”

Turri allowed just two goals and finished with four saves, which was one more than Aaron had in more than three quarters of play. Turri, who was the starting goalkeeper in Duke’s run to last year’s national title, has the support of his teammates.

“All the confidence in the world in that kid,” senior attackman Jordan Wolf said. “I’ve been shooting against him for two years. I know what he brings to the table. He’s won a national championship before. He has all the experience in the world and has all the confidence of our team and coaches, so it was no big deal. He did an unbelievable job.”

Circling back to Three Things to Watch …  

1) Duke’s offense chugging right along. The 15 goals the Blue Devils scored were a tournament low, but it was plenty for the team to advance to its third title game in five years. Junior attackman Kyle Keenan – filling in for injured senior Josh Dionne (right knee) – scored a team-high four goals and added one assist. Wolf, a Tewaaraton Award finalist, chipped in three goals and two assists, and senior midfielder Christian Walsh (Boys’ Latin). Denver senior midfielder Jeremy Noble could only express his admiration for Duke’s ability to get points from many sources. 

“I think we had a couple different looks, but they’re a phenomenal offense,” said Noble, who managed just one assist. “They have so many good players on offense that if you try to shut down Jordan Wolf, then someone else is going to go off for four or five. In fact, same thing with our offense. I can relate to them because we have so many weapons on our offense as well. So I sort of look at them as us offensively. There’s just so many weapons on the field, and anyone on any given day can have a great day, and they all had a great day offensively. So credit goes to them. They all played well.”

2) Denver’s goalie rotation doesn’t stymie Duke. As mentioned above, the Blue Devils managed just 15 goals, which is a tournament low. So the Pioneers did a reasonable job of slowing Duke, but it wasn’t enough. Junior Ryan LaPlante, making his 16th start of the season, surrendered eight goals and made five saves. Senior Jamie Faus allowed seven goals and made four stops. But Denver needed more if it was going to pull off the upset.

3) Faceoffs end up in a draw. As he has done this postseason, Denver sophomore Chris Hampton battled valiantly against a superior opponent. Matching up against Duke senior Brendan Fowler (59.5 percent on 273-of-459), Hampton (53.2 percent on 150-of-282) won 12 faceoffs to Fowlers’ 15. Hampton led the Pioneers with six ground balls, while Fowler posted a game-best nine ground balls. Hampton did what he could to give Denver possessions, but the Blue Devils were just too strong.