April 9, 2011

Denver Upsets Duke on Coaches' Old Long Island Stomping Grounds

by Chris R. Vaccaro | LaxMagazine.com | Live Blog Replay

BETHPAGE, N.Y. – It was a familiar setting for Duke coach John Danowski and Denver coach Bill Tierney. The Long Island natives turned NCAA Division I men's lacrosse coaches returned to their native land for a non-conference, historic showdown less than 10 miles from their former stomping grounds.

Tenth-ranked Denver came away with a 12-9 upset victory over fourth-ranked Duke Saturday at Bethpage High School's Howard C. Vogt's Field before 6,000 fans in the first Battle of Bethpage.

"This is just the beginning of something that could be fantastic," said Tierney, who coached high school lacrosse at Levittown-Division and Great Neck on Long Island before hitting the college ranks. "Only in the sport of lacrosse can you pull something like this off, where you get two teams in the top 10, two coaches willing to give up games to travel 1,000 miles to play in a high school venue. This is what lacrosse is all about. I would give up anything to play in an event like this again at Bethpage."

Danowski, the former head coach of Hofstra University, played high school lacrosse at East Meadow, and was a science teacher and coach in the Bellmore-Merrick School District on the Island.

His Duke team competed nearby at the Big City Classic in New Jersey last weekend, and he hoped for a different outcome this time around after losing to Syracuse.

Denver (8-2), however, outscored Duke (8-4), 7-4, in the second half and never trailed in the final 30 minutes of the contest.

Denver's Todd Baxter benefitted from Duke's focus on Mark Matthews, scoring three of his four goals in the second half of the 10th-ranked Pioneers' 12-9 upset of the fourth-ranked Blue Devils in the Battle of Bethpage.

© Greg Shemitz

Todd Baxter scored three of his four goals in the final two quarters, including three straight for Denver in the third quarter.

Duke's Robert Rotanz, who led the Blue Devils with four goals and was named his team's game MVP, scored two goals in the second quarter to push Duke ahead, 5-4, before Baxter tied the score at 5 with 33 seconds remaining in the half.

Denver has played its best lacrosse of the season in the third quarter and capitalized from the onset, going up 7-5 on goals from Chase Carraro and Baxter to open the quarter. It was a lead the Pioneers would never relinquish.

Carraro scored twice and won 11-of-24 faceoffs, winning the game MVP honor for Denver.

Duke made a point to neutralize Mark Matthews, Denver's leading scorer coming into the game with 40 points (26g). While Matthews finished with one goal and two assists, it was Baxter who was the beneficiary of open lanes.

"With locking off Mark, it was really five-on-five," Baxter said. "There were a bunch of open looks, and they happened to come to me this time. I canned them and put them away."

For Danowski, the day was fruitful because he was able to watch his daughter Kate, 28, coach her girls' lacrosse team at Bethpage against MacArthur after the men's game. Since their schedules conflict and he lives down south, he hasn't been able to watch her coach much. The Battle at Bethpage afforded him that opportunity.

"It says something about our sport," he said. "It was an event. It was more than just a game."

Tierney on the other hand was looking to forge some name recognition and make the people of Long Island aware of Denver's ability.

"We think we made a step in the direction we wanted to go in," he said.

Denver hosts Ohio State next weekend at Invesco Field in Denver, while Duke hosts Presbyterian Monday and Virginia Saturday.

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