BALTIMORE — Two straight NCAA men’s lacrosse championships. Three in the last five years. Eight straight trips to the Final Four, half of which ended in an appearance in the title game.
If that’s not a dynasty, what is it?
“It’s Duke,” coach John Danowski said Monday, shortly after the Blue Devils claimed another national championship with an 11-9 win over Notre Dame.
“The kids who come here, we push them from Day One. But they accept that and want to be something that’s greater than themselves,” Danowski said. “It’s just a mix of tremendous character young men and a place that provides them an opportunity to grow.”
The top-seeded Blue Devils (17-3) limited the Irish to one goal over the first 35 minutes, built a six-goal lead in the third quarter and held on.
“Our offense didn’t have our best day today, but we kept working to try to get our shots clicking,” said Jordan Wolf, who had two goals and four assists.
The sixth-seeded Irish (12-6) closed to 9-8 with 5 minutes left and had the ball with a chance to tie. But after Duke goalie Luke Aaron stopped a shot by Jim Marlatt, Kyle Keenan scored on the other end with 2:39 to go for a two-goal cushion.
Sergio Perkovic’s fifth goal of the game made it 10-9 with 49.6 seconds remaining. Duke won the ensuing draw, however, and Wolf scored into an empty net with 23.6 seconds left to clinch it.
“They doubled, the goalie was out and I just ran past it and dunked it,” Wolf said.
Duke earned its first title in 2010 with a one-goal win over Notre Dame. This one, an all-Atlantic Coast Conference matchup, looked to be a lopsided rout before the Irish rallied.
“Just obviously a very, very disappointing day,” Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said. “Just played 30 minutes of poor lacrosse to start the game. I really don’t know what to attribute it to. But it’s my responsibility; we didn’t come out prepared to play our best lacrosse.”
Notre Dame tied a record for fewest first-half goals in the championship game last set by Cornell in 1988. The Irish, who came in averaging 12 goals and 37 shots per game, took only 18 shots.
Duke’s swarming defense had a lot to do with that.
Notre Dame has played in 19 NCAA tournaments and reached the Final Four on four occasions but still has not won the championship.
Duke, on the other hand, appears to be in the midst of a dynasty.
“The last four years they’ve done a terrific job,” Corrigan said. “Their coach does a great job of nurturing a team and getting them to play their best at the end of the year. Yeah, they’re very talented, very well coached and they’re doing a terrific job.”
Up 5-1 at halftime, Duke got a goal from Keenan with 17 seconds gone in the third quarter. After Perkovic answered, the Blue Devils scored twice within a minute for an 8-2 lead.
That’s when the Irish launched their comeback.
“Notre Dame is a great team,” Wolf said. “We knew they were going to make a run.”
Perkovic and Ben Pridemore scored to make it 8-4 after three quarters, and two more goals made it 8-6 with 11 minutes to go. But the Irish never could overcome their horrid start.
“We were so bad in the first half. We had a game’s worth of turnovers,” Corrigan said. “We felt like we’d be stronger in the last 20 minutes of the game, but we let it get away from us a little too far.”
Notre Dame goalie Conor Kelly stopped four shots in the first quarter, but Duke’s Christian Walsh scored with 8:13 left in the period and teammate Deemer Class added another with eight seconds to go.
It was the third time this season the Irish were held scoreless in the first period. In those games, they rallied to beat Ohio State and Maryland.
There would not be a repeat performance in this one, although Notre Dame sure came close.
“We’ve been in that situation before. That’s why we had so much confidence,” attackman Matt Kavanagh said. “We were just one play away. We had the ball down one, do we thought we had an opportunity to tie it. But it just didn’t go our way.”
Duke defenseman Casey Carroll ended his career with the title that eluded him as a player seven years ago. The 29-year-old was on the 2005 team that lost in the title game, the 2006 team hit by false rape allegations and the ‘07 team that lost to Hopkins by a goal in the final in Baltimore.
After a stint in the Army, Carroll returned to Duke in 2013 for a final year of eligibility as a business school student. He injured his knee in preseason drills, sat out the season and returned this year for a final run.