April 20, 2012
On Friday the 13th, the seventh-ranked Blue Devils continued their hex of Virginia, beating the top-ranked Cavaliers 13-5 on Senior Night in Charlottesville. © Matt Riley
On Friday the 13th, the seventh-ranked Blue Devils continued their hex of Virginia, beating the top-ranked Cavaliers 13-5 on Senior Night in Charlottesville. © Matt Riley

Tobacco Road Rivalry Set for ACC Championship

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Live Blog Replay

Dan Wigrizer continued his hot streak between the pipes, making 10 saves, including two in the final 20 seconds of Duke's 6-5 win over Maryland in the ACC semifinals Friday.
© Matt Riley

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Niko Amato’s expression said it all. How in the world did that go in?

Josh Dionne’s magical turnaround shot that went from turf to twine in the blink of an eye gave top-seeded Duke a 4-3 halftime lead over fourth-seeded Maryland and left everyone at Klockner Stadium in disbelief — including Amato. Dionne scooped up loose ball in a scrum just outside the crease, and quickly snuck a low-to-high shot over Amato’s right shoulder with 1.2 seconds in the second quarter.

Dionne’s ridiculous goal ended up being the difference in Duke’s 6-5 victory. The teams were otherwise even in Friday’s ACC Tournament opener. Behind Dionne’s hat trick, several big saves down the stretch by goalie Dan Wigrizer and stout team defense, the Blue Devils won their ninth straight and snapped a three-game skid against Maryland, securing a trip to Sunday’s conference championship game against North Carolina, which won the nightcap 11-9 over Virginia.

“Coach [John Danowski] drew up the play, with me in the middle,” Dionne said, though the end result wasn’t much like what Danowski anticipated. “It was a scrap, and all week in practice we've been working on scrapping. We emphasize that every day. So when the ball is on the ground, I'm going to be fighting for it. I know everyone else is fighting for it. I was just fortunate enough to come up with the ball. Another thing we do in practice is concentrate on knowing where the net is, so I have full confidence of knowing where the net is when I have my back turned to it. It just happened to go in.”

Said Maryland coach John Tillman: “The way they play, those things happen.”

Dionne’s highlight-reel goal was the second of his three goals on the night, giving him 31 for the season. Don’t look now, but Dionne is Duke’s leading scorer.

The sophomore attackman has a last name and plays a game that makes you think he’s Canadian — for his finishing ability and moves in tight spaces — but he’s from New Hampshire. Regardless, the lacrosse world is witnessing the maturation of Dionne. It’s happening right before our eyes.

“We've been watching the growth of all our players, and certainly the sophomores,” Danowski said. “Josh, each week, just continues to get better.”

This was most evident to Danowski on Dionne’s third goal, after he accepted a pass in transition from Tommy Patterson right on the doorstep. CJ Costabile hounded Maryland’s faceoff specialist Curtis Holmes after losing a faceoff, but he forced a turnover, which Patterson picked up en route to the other end, where he found Dionne.

He pump-faked high, took the extra step, and finished low.

“We just talked about that goal,” said Danowski, who preaches “being a ball player” and having high lacrosse IQ. “We showed that happen in film this week. Against Virginia, our defenseman Chris Hipps ran down the field and shot and missed. We talked about how, I noticed Josh. I said, 'Josh, you did a great job of just being in the right spot. Eventually that's going to happen.' Josh just reminded me of that conversation outside. He's just learning how to get to the spots on the field and then make plans. So I’m very proud of him.”

Danowski described Friday’s game as a “street fight,” while Tillman opted for “slugfest.” Both are appropriate. There wasn’t very much offensive production in 6-on-6 settings. Two of the Terrapins four goals came in extra-man opportunities — both by senior Mike Chanenchuk, who hadn’t had a multi-goal games since Feb. 24 — while Duke scored one on the man-advantage and two others in transition. Each team took 31 shots, but only 11 goals were scored.

Dionne’s third goal gave Duke a 6-4 fourth-quarter lead, but Maryland senior attackman Joe Cummings scored with 2:09 remaining to give the Terps momentum.

An errant pass gave Maryland the ball back with 1:24 on the clock. Cummings and fellow senior Drew Snider both got good looks at the cage, but Wigrizer stood tall. He finished with 10 saves, including two in the final 20 seconds.

“I love playing when we have under two minutes left, with a one-goal lead,” Wigrizer said.” You know everything is going to come down to that. They're going to shoot, you know they're going to shoot because they're down and there's limited time left. Don’t get caught off guard, don't worry about how much time is left. When they're in front of you, you just stay put, stay relaxed and keep your position, When they shoot, they shoot, and you try to make the save.”

Tillman called Duke “the hottest team in the country,” which is hardly debatable after the Blue Devils’ won their ninth in a row. (He also said Maryland isn’t “too far behind,” which is true.)

But what might be most impressive is the way Duke has won games during this stretch, especially the last two. The Devils got up and down against Virginia, scoring 13 goals in last week’s win, and they were able to grind out a low-scoring game Friday.

“I'm extremely proud of our team,” Danowski said. “When you play somebody twice, this game is kind of a measuring stick of how far you've come in seven weeks. I'm just very proud of the way they have evolved.”

Carolina’s Offense Clicking on All Cylinders in Nightcap Victory

Marcus Holman scored a game-high three goals as North Carolina knocked off Virginia in the ACC tournament semifinals in Charlottesville on Friday night.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

North Carolina coach Joe Breschi had his hotel key in his pocket Friday night. It was a little added motivation for the Tar Heels, who hadn’t beaten Virginia in nine tries since 2004.

“I told the guys they had to pack the bus up. I said, 'Look, we're not staying at the hotel unless you win. We're driving back to Chapel Hill if we lose this game.’”

After third-seeded North Carolina’s 11-9 defeat of second-seeded  Virginia in the nightcap of Friday’s ACC Tournament doubleheader, the bus isn’t going anywhere. Duke and North Carolina’s campuses are located about 10 miles on Rt. 15/501, but the Tobacco Road rivals will meet in Charlottesville on Sunday.

Marcus Holman totaled a game-high three goals, Joey Sankey added two goals and three assists, and four other players were in the scoring column for Carolina, which has now win six of its last seven. The one loss? A 15-10 defeat at the hands of the Cavaliers two weeks ago, which has now been avenged.

“It means a lot for guys in this program,” Holman said. “No one had ever beaten Virginia. It's definitely a monkey off our back.”

The Wahoos used a 6-0 second-half run to beat the Tar Heels the last time these teams met. But Friday night, after Holman tied the game at 4, Carolina dug its heels in. It was 10-7 midway through the final period.

“Defensively, our plan was to stay nice and tight and force hands a little bit. Play soft off Stanwick. He's a terrific player. He's going to get his points regardless of how you play him. But really try to make the midfielders beat us, moreso than last game,” Breschi said.  “Offensively, just continue going. We had some great opportunities, particularly in the first quarter, and we didn't finish. We hit a lot of pipes. But we shot the ball better, which was great. R.G. Keenan was fantastic at the X. Any time you have that weapon there, at key moments, when you're man-down face, he was making plays. I thought we cleared the ball well. I thought we did some good things. Once we got in after the first quarter, we started to really take our time with shots and not settle for the first opportunity but really work the ball for sometimes lay-ups, which was nice. And we started to can them, which was nice.”

The offensive performance Friday night was what everyone envisioned before the season started. It’s why ESPN play-by-play announcer Eamon McAnaney joked the Heels were the “Miami Heat of lacrosse.” Returning the core of last year’s team, adding a host of highly-regarded recruits and bringing aboard transfers Davey Emala and Greg McBride — stars on Georgetown and Princeton, respectively — Carolina looked scary on paper.

It just took time to find the right chemistry. And now, the Heels are clicking on all cylinders.

“The biggest thing for us was that there was so much hype,” Breschi said. “For a lot of those guys, the expectations were poured on top of them, saying: 'This is what you've got to do. This is how you've got to play. You're going to be this, that and the other thing.' It's almost like the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. And our guys just kept fighting, scrapping. We were 4-2 early, having two tough losses there against very good teams. We shuffled some things around, and then kind of settled the fourth quarter of the Duke game on some young guys who just caused a lot of havoc for defenses. We started scoring goals, and we're in double-digits in every game since that game. That's been exciting to see.”

Not so much for Virginia, which has dropped back-to-back games after enduring a stretch that included contests with Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Duke and North Carolina twice.

“We weren't sharp enough when we needed to be,” Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia said. “We had chances to score some goals that we didn't capitalize on. Little mistakes that cost us at the other end. A couple little things were the things that made the difference, and in a game like this, that's always going to be the case. It feels like we're struggling a little bit right now. We've just got to get it figured out and get to it.”

Virginia had 16 turnovers, including six in the fourth quarter, but applied pressure in the final minutes. The Cavaliers just didn’t have enough gas.

Reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Steele Stanwick’s unassisted score with 6:06 remaining in the third quarter made him Virginia’s all-time career points leader with 250. He surpassed the record previously held by Doug Knight.

On a night when Stanwick scored two goals and dished out five assists — tying him with Gary Gait for 27th on the NCAA’s all-time points list — it wasn’t enough.

“Steele happens to be the all-time leading scorer here now, and one of the best players that's ever played here,” Starsia said. “But that's just a small part of the person he is. It's been a real privilege for me to be able to spend this time with him, and be part of his life over these four years. He's just a really special kid.”

While Stanwick made history — and there will be time to reflect on his career accomplishments later — the story Friday was North Carolina and Duke. They’re both playing their best lacrosse right now.

“We didn't come up here to beat Virginia,” Holman said. “We came up here to win a championship.”

That would make for a happy bus ride home.

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