"A couple more nights in the greatest city in the world."
Those were the words shouted by a Duke player in an M&T Bank Stadium tunnel moments after the Blue Devils' 15-12 victory over Denver in Saturday's NCAA men's lacrosse Final Four matchup.
Powered by a resurgent fourth quarter, in which Duke scored three of the game's final four goals, the top-seeded Blue Devils will be able to keep their hotel reservations in Baltimore. They'll spend their second consecutive Memorial Day playing in the national championship, in which they'll face No. 6 seed Notre Dame in a rematch of the 2010 title game. The Fighting Irish were an 11-6 winner over No. 7 seed Maryland in the other semifinal.
"I'm not sure how that experience helps us yet for this team until I talk to them and look at them," said Duke coach John Danowski, who seeks his third title in the past five years. "I don't think it hurts, for sure. I thought the younger guys really did a nice job."
Duke attackman Kyle Keenan, who was inserted into the starting lineup this week after Josh Dionne suffered a knee injury in last week's victory over Johns Hopkins, paced the Blue Devils offense with four goals and one assist. Wes Berg led Denver with a game-high five goals, which helped the Pioneers twice cut their deficit to one goal in the fourth quarter.
With Duke's five-goal lead down to one, Danowski didn't have an answer for his players, he said. Fortunately for him, Myles Jones did.
With his team up 11-10 with 12:09 left to play, Jones took a pass from teammate Christian Walsh (Boys' Latin), drove down the left alley and rocketed a left-handed shot past Denver goalie Jamie Faus to extend Duke's lead to two goals. Exactly a minute later, Pioneers attackman Zach Miller toe-dragged his stick past his defender and buried a low-angle shot to make it a one-goal game again.
After a Denver turnover, Blue Devils attackman Case Matheis found Keenan cutting in the middle of the field, and the junior southpaw finished a low shot on the run to give Duke a 13-11 lead.
"No one is going to replace Josh Dionne," said Duke attackman Jordan Wolf, who finished with three goals and two assists. "He's an unbelievable player, and with his loss, there's no one that's going to step in like Josh. But we just encouraged Kyle to be himself all week, and he was."
Just fifteen seconds later, Duke midfielder Deemer Class struck with the dagger. The Loyola High grad sprinted out of the substitution box after an illegal procedure call on Denver and found himself wide-open in the middle of the field. He finished a high shot past Faus, which put the game out of reach.
Denver coach Bill Tierney said his team's strenuous travel schedule might have hampered its ability to prepare for Duke's transition offense.
"We knew they were going to get their goals," Tierney said. "I thought the ones that hurt us were in the middle of the field. We kind of had a short week and probably didn't do as good of a job as we should of preparing for that full-field action. But when you get back home at 3:00 on Monday morning and have to fly back out on Wednesday evening, there's going to be some things you overlook in practice."
Despite being on their second trip to the East Coast in less than a week, Denver didn't come out sluggish. Berg scored unassisted for the game's first goal, but it turned out to be the Pioneers' only lead of the game. Jones scored on Duke's next possession to start a 3-1 run.
Denver tied the game at 4 early in the second quarter, but three consecutive goals from Wolf to close the first half gave the Blue Devils an 8-4 lead.
"We felt like we had made a run," Tierney said. "You get [the lead] to one, and you're either going to win if you score that next goal or it might have taken to much having done that. That's what happened today."
Duke finished 15-for-15 on clears and turned the ball over a season-low six times.