April 1, 2012

Duke Squeezes Past Orange at Big City Classic

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Live Blog Replay 

Duke dropped Syracuse to 4-4 on the season with a 12-10 win Sunday. 
© Jim O'Connor

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Even on April Fools' Day, John Danowski knew how and when to pull the right strings. Though it might've been an accident, Danowski's now-you-see-me, now-you-don't trick between the pipes helped spark No. 8 Duke in the fourth quarter.

Rob Rotanz tallied four goals, including the game-winner, while Dan Wigrizer made four fourth-quarter saves — matching his total through the first three quarters — as the Blue Devils beat No. 14 Syracuse 12-10 in the second game of Sunday's Big City Classic tripleheader at MetLife Stadium.

Danowski pulled Wigrizer and inserted backup goalie Mike Rock for a roughly five-minute stretch in the second half after Syracuse's Luke Cometti tied the game at 9 with 2:46 in the third.

"It may have appeared that Dan Wigrizer was struggling a little bit, and maybe, at times, he was," Danowski said.

But JoJo Marasco's high-to-low step down shot beat Rock between his legs, and Wigrizer was quickly reinserted.

Several media members looked at one other and asked: Did Danowski just pull Wigrizer for a quick pep talk? Or was he looking for a spark?

"Actually, the officials made us take Danny out at that point," Danowski said. "He had blood on his ankle. He got spiked by a Syracuse player and there was blood on his leg, so he had to come out. But there certainly was discussion [about pulling Wigrizer] before that. I'm not going to say there wasn't."

Well, good thing Danowski sent Wigrizer back in. The junior goalie made four impressive stops from point-blank range, stoning one Syracuse shot after the next to keep the Orange at bay and preserve Duke's first win over the Orange since 1978. Danowski said playing Syracuse "is like playing Notre Dame, the Yankees and the Boston Celtics all rolled into one in our sport."

In the fourth, Wigrizer corralled a pair of lasers by Marasco, denied Colin Donahue with a kick save and then made a ridiculous stuff save in front on a cutting Tommy Palasek, who had already scored a team-high four goals to that point.

"In the fourth quarter he made all the saves that the team needed," Danowski said. "Very, very proud of Danny, the way he hung in there and the way he executed in his position over the course of the last 15 minutes."

"He came up big when they needed it the most," Syracuse coach John Desko said. "He came up big. A couple one-on-one saves there. Without those, who knows?"

And then there was Danowski's vote of confidence in Wigrizer: "He's our guy."

Danowski's praise for Wigrizer is understandable given the Blue Devils' recent late-game struggles. Though Duke held on, it nearly gave away games in the final period against Brown and Syracuse, and Danowski commented multiple times lately about the need to cap off games and play a complete 60 minutes.

Sunday, Wigrizer was the ultimate finisher, holding Syracuse scoreless for the final 13:41.

"[The fourth quarter] has been an issue for us," Danowski said. "It has been an emphasis. On Wednesday and Thursday [at practice] we put the scoreboard on, that we were up, and we played quarters. We acted and responded and tried to coach through those situations. While that's not even close to being what that atmosphere was like today, I'm still very proud of our guys and the way they handled themselves in the fourth quarter."

With Wigrizer standing on his head and pumping his fist after every save, Duke seemed to gain an edge in the final stanza.

Rotanz scored the eventual game-winner right after Wigrizer's first save after re-entering. David Lawson dodged down the alley and fired a pass behind the cage to Jordan Wolf, who attracted a quick slide. Wolf fired out top to Rotanz, who ripped high-to-low past Syracuse's Dominic Lamolinara, who made 10 saves in his third start of the season.

The Blue Devils were sloppy early, turning the ball over seven times in the opening period to fall behind 3-1. But six goals in the second stanza — back-to-back by Rotanz and one each from Wolf and Lawson — gave Duke a 7-6 halftime edge. Wolf and Lawson each scored a pair, rounding out a balanced offensive effort that featured seven goal scorers.

Did that sluggish start worry Danowski, facing Syracuse — a team in need of a win after dropping its first-ever Big East game to Villanova last weekend?

"On the outside, no. On the inside, I was freaking out," Danowski said. "Thankfully, they settled down. That second goal that Rob scored, everything seemed to calm down. You just try to play. You keep sending the same message: Relax, be confident and just hope that it'll turn."

The loss gave the Orange consecutive losses for the first time since 2007, and it doesn't get much easier: Sitting at 4-4, Syracuse's next two games are against Princeton and Cornell.

"We had great effort, and now we really need to get rid of some of our mistakes," Desko said. "We played hard. We competed. We were down a few goals, come back and tie it up a couple times. Now we've got to get rid of our mistakes. Believe it or not, even though it was a loss, we improved today."

Palasek paced Syracuse with four goals, while Cometti and Tim Desko added two each.

But the story Sunday was Duke, which in typical Danowski fashion, has rebounded from a slow start to rattle off six straight wins and enters April on a tear.

"Every team has got its own journey," Danowski said. "For us, we've got our strengths and weaknesses and things we need to work on as the year moves forward. Now that March is officially over and we move forward to April, we're ready. This was just the next big game."

Said Wolf: "It's huge, definitely. A lot of momentum that we hope to bring throughout the second half of the season."

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