In a men’s lacrosse matchup billed in some circles as the upstart against the program of the decade, the newcomer crashed the party.
In its first appearance in an NCAA Division I tournament final, third-seeded Yale took the early lead and held off fourth-seeded Duke long enough to leave Gillette Stadium with a 13-11 win and the school’s first NCAA championship in the sport.
Sophomore attackman Matt Gaudet scored four times, and senior attackman Ben Reeves contributed one goal and three assists to help the Bulldogs (17-3) become the first Ivy League program to capture an NCAA title since Princeton in 2001. It is the school’s first crown since being awarded the national championship in 1883.
For a program that has recently been regarded as one with the potential to break through, turning promise into reality was enormously gratifying for coach Andy Shay, who was hired in June 2003.
“We were one of the better teams at the start of the season, and now we’re the best team at the end,” he said. “That to me is mission accomplished.”
Gaudet, who scored six goals in Saturday’s 20-11 rout of No. 2 seed Albany, was limited to a single goal in the first half. But he scored twice in Yale’s 4-1 start to the third quarter and tacked on the team’s final goal with 8:11 left in the fourth.
“This weekend, I thought that our midfielders and both Ben and [sophomore attackman] Jackson Morrill were able to draw a lot of attention,” Gaudet said. “As soon as I saw the back of my defender’s helmet, I just went under him. They’d be able to draw the slide, and I was able to get my layups. I just owe it all to my teammates.”
The Bulldogs scored six times on eight shots in that third quarter, and Blue Devils coach John Danowski said their offensive efficiency tilted the game in their favor.
“I thought that Yale shot the ball particularly well,” said Danowski, whose program was seeking its fourth national crown since 2010. “We didn’t shoot the ball as well as we have been in the last couple weeks, and that just may have been the difference. I thought they picked some corners and had some great individual efforts on their part.”
Borrowing a page from their offensive playbook against the Great Danes when they sprinted to a 7-0 advantage, the Bulldogs scored the game’s first three goals — two from junior midfielder Jack Tigh and one from Gaudet. Duke eventually drew to within one at 4-3 with 7:35 left in the second quarter, but was unable to tie or overtake Yale.
Blue Devils senior attackman Justin Guterding, one of five Tewaaraton Award finalists, conceded that the Bulldogs’ fast start was difficult to overcome.
“They played great, and they came out hot,” said Guterding, who capped his NCAA record for goals in a single season at 212 by scoring two and adding an assist. “We started on our heels. It’s tough to play from behind.”
But even after Gaudet’s third goal of the game gave Yale a 10-5 lead with 9:08 remaining in the third quarter, Duke embarked on a 3-0 spurt to keep Bulldogs players and fans on their toes.
“Yeah, we came out hot in the third quarter, and we knew Duke was going to come out and respond shortly after, and they did,” said Reeves, another Tewaaraton Award finalist. “They pulled it within two, I think. We were able to make a couple plays late in that third quarter to kind of stretch that lead, and thankfully hold on to it.”
In addition to Gaudet and Reeves, Yale got three goals from Tigh and a game-high nine saves from freshman goalkeeper Jack Starr. Morrill, a Baltimore resident and McDonogh graduate who had one assist for Yale, became the fourth generation of his family to claim a national championship.
His great grandfather, William Kelso Morrill, Sr., helped Johns Hopkins win United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association titles in 1926 and 1927 and then coached the Blue Jays to national titles in 1941 and 1950. Grandfather William Kelso Morrill Jr. factored in Johns Hopkins collecting USILA crowns in 1957 and 1959, and father Michael was a member of the 1985 and 1987 Blue Jays squads that captured NCAA championships.
The Blue Devils (16-4) got two goals and one assist from sophomore attackman Joey Manown and eight saves from fifth-year senior goalie Danny Fowler.
Duke 1 3 5 2 — 11
Yale 3 3 6 1 — 13
Goals: D—Conley 2, Guterding 2, Manown 2, Quigley 2, Robertson 2, Bra.Smith; Y—Gaudet 4, Tigh 3, Alessi, Cotler, Reeves, Rooney, Sessa, Tevlin. Assists: D—Guterding, Lowrie, Manown, Bra.Smith, Bri.Smith, Welch; Y—Reeves 3, Cotler 2, Alessi, Morrill. Saves: D—Fowler 8; Y—Starr 9.