April 22, 2012

Duke Takes ACC Title Behind Key Third Quarter

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.comLive Blog Replay | Related: All-Access With Duke

Duke sophomore attackman Christian Walsh scored four goals and had two assists, and was named ACC Tournament MVP after the Blue Devils' 12-9 win over North Carolina on Sunday.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Call Mike Manley "Mr. Momentum," Will Haus "The Electrifying Energizer" and CJ Costabile "The Ground Ball Goblin."

Behind several critical loose ball pick-ups and hounding play between the stripes, Duke rode a 5-0 third-quarter rally to defeat North Carolina 12-9 in the ACC Championship on a wet and windy day at Klockner Stadium.

It was the Blue Devils' 10th straight win, their seventh conference crown and 15th win in the last 17 games against their Tobacco Road rivals, denying the Tar Heels' bid for their first ACC title since 1996.

"In a kind of crazy sort of way, this is a bonus game. This is the game that's not guaranteed on your schedule," Duke coach John Danowski said. "Winning an ACC championship is a big deal. The lacrosse world will say, 'Hey, you only have four teams.' But people who live on ACC campuses know how competitive our conference is. It is a big deal to be crowned an ACC champion. The physicality of the two games on Friday and Sunday, it was so physical. You have to play so hard to win, and sometimes it just goes to the team that survives."

Duke jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but North Carolina went into halftime with a 4-2 advantage. But the Blue Devils came out determined after halftime and scored five consecutive goals. The difference? Danowski put it simply: "It was ground ball play."

Danowski preaches chasing ground balls — and makes it a priority — every week. But it's difficult to debate his point, glancing at the game-tying goal early in the third quarter that shifted momentum in the Blue Devils' favor.

With time winding down under 25 seconds left on an extra-man opportunity — Duke entered Sunday converting just 21 percent — it looked as if the opportunity would go to waste. Justin Turri's feed inside was batted down by Charlie McComas, and North Carolina defenseman Logan Corey momentarily picked up the loose ball. Josh Dionne got his stick on it, but Kieran McDonald knocked it loose, sending the ball toward the other restraining line.

Out of nowhere, Manley flew in from the midline like a bowling ball. He anticipated the ball's path, scooped it, bounced off two Carolina attackmen and tossed it forward. Rob Rotanz got it back into the offensive end and fed down low to Christian Walsh, who threw a skip pass to Jordan Wolf on the left wing. Wolf picked the top right corner with a three-quarter side-winding release.

Tie game. 4-4 with 11:07 left in the third.

Sophomore attackman Christian Walsh scored his third of four goals about 90 seconds later, and Duke never trailed the rest of the way. Danowski said plays like Manley's — and two others in the third quarter by Haus — were momentum-building, energizing plays.

Cashing in from close-range also helped swing control in Duke's favor. After burying two of their first four shots, the Blue Devils went cold for a 25 minute stretch, during which they shot 0-for-15. Walsh keyed the Devils' attack after intermission, scoring three of his game-high four goals during Duke's 5-0 run.

"I'm ecstatic," said Walsh, who was named ACC Tournament MVP after totaling six points Sunday. "It's a dream come true. It really is. To beat North Carolina today and Maryland on Friday was incredible. It has been a great weekend."

Walsh was in the right place at the right time, finding himself on the doorstep throughout the afternoon. Even though Duke's leading scorers Wolf and Dionne were held in check — they combined for two goals — Walsh made Carolina pay.

"The way they were playing defensively, they were coming off Josh Dionne inside and then they were helping off the pipes," Danowski said. "We basically said, 'Hey listen, you guys gotta hang around the pipes.' He was the beneficiary of some really great looks where our middies threw the ball inside and found him. Be smart and finish smart. That's something we haven't always done well this year."

On the other end of the field, Danowski praised the play of the freshman short-stick defensive midfielder Haus, who may not have big numbers in the box score but influences the game with his intangibles — picking up ground balls, covering both midfielders and attackmen, and sparking transition

"Will Haus has been simply amazing with a short-stick," Danowski said. "We ask him to cover a lot of different people, to do a lot of different things."

Much like Haus, Costabile impacted the game with his constant ball-hawking. Carolina's R.G. Keenan won 17-of-25 faceoffs, but Costabile caused commotion and didn't let Keenan get away easy. He gobbled up eight ground balls. It begs to wonder: Is there anyone in the country who does more for his team than Costabile?

Sunday marked Carolina's second loss since it re-shuffled its starting lineup and went young with freshmen Joey Sankey, Jimmy Bitter and Chad Tutton. That Tar Heel trio scored six of the team's nine goals Sunday, which included a hat trick by Tutton.

"We've got a lot of young guys playing, which I think is great," Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "They're gaining experience in a championship-type atmosphere. This weekend was a growing-up time for our guys."

Since the last time the Tar Heels lost to Duke — a 13-11 loss in mid-March — they were 5-1 and had averaged 11.6 goals per game. They continue to play fast, loose and aggressive.

"I feel if we play our best and execute, we can play with anyone in the country, and I think we proved that this weekend," Breschi said. "It's disappointing anytime you lose a game like that. I'm really proud of our guys, that they really worked hard. I'm proud of our effort, we just didn't execute in the second half. A couple tough calls to start the half. We started off man-down maybe two or three times, and that kind of changed the flow and momentum of the game."

Momentum? Duke has momentum. What's scary: Each of the last seven ACC champions has made the final four. The Blue Devils' 10 straight victories make them the hottest team in the country, right?

"I don't know about that," Walsh said. "We've had a good run. It's been very fun. We're just going to keep working hard. Coach [Danowski] doesn't let us settle for anything."

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