Duke is winded, but Hopkins breezed

May 28, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

There were 23 seconds left in the game Saturday when Duke midfielder Ed Douglas picked up a ground ball near the restraining line. Shortly before he got to midfield, three Cornell players swarmed him under and he lost the ball.

It sounds just like another turnover, except Duke was ahead only 11-10. And no Blue Devils attackmen came to get the ball from Douglas because their feet were as heavy as cement. Douglas' fellow midfielders were also stuck in their spots like statues, and they weren't moving so well either when Cornell midfielder Brian Clayton tied the score with 17 seconds left.

Attackman Zack Greer bailed out top-seeded Duke with a game-winning goal with three seconds remaining as the Blue Devils defeated Cornell, 12-11, but Duke showed a glimpse of its vulnerability. You can bet Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala and his assistant coaches looked into it as they scouted Duke after the Blue Jays routed Delaware, 8-3, in the first of the two semifinals.

That was a tired Duke team left standing on the field at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday. The Blue Devils (17-2) survived a gallant seven-goal comeback by the Big Red (15-1), but they paid a heavy price in fatigue. Hopkins (12-4) played in the same heat Saturday, but the Blue Jays had a much easier time with Delaware.

The question entering the championship game today is whether Duke has enough left to overcome Hopkins.

"Certainly, you can think that," Duke coach John Danowski said. "But with these kids, and everything they have been through, their focus and desire will certainly be evident come Monday afternoon. Win or lose, they're going to give a great effort Monday afternoon."

Under normal game circumstances, Duke would be an easy favorite because the Blue Devils have more athletic talent and the better team. But there were some troubling signs with Duke on Saturday.

By midway through the fourth quarter, defensemen Tony McDevitt, Ryan McFadyen and Casey Carroll were slow on slides. Near the same time in the period, Duke goalie Dan Loftus was up near the restraining line requesting help because of leg problems caused by the heat. The Big Red kept swarming while Duke looked like it was stuck in a time warp. Even Mr. Energizer himself, attackman Matt Danowski, appeared tired.

He ran out of gas while trying to run through a triple team with 1:22 left in the game. And he certainly had no juice when Douglas was trying to get to the midfield in the last minute.

"You're never quite sure if you allowed the team to come back or if they just fought back and made plays," John Danowski said.

Oh, in this case, it was a combination of both. After trailing by four goals at halftime, Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni made a couple of great adjustments. He took John Glynn off the first midfield and used him exclusively on faceoffs. And then he inserted seldom-used midfielders Andrew MacDonald and Maximilian Dorne on the wings for faceoffs and on defense.

"We felt after the first half, being down 7-3, our coaching staff said in order to do this, it's going to take a lot of energy to get back into this game," Tambroni said. "If we're playing the same guys over and over again and we get back into this, in the fourth quarter, they will not have any gas left. They [reserves] gave us a little boost so when we did make stops and create clears, we had fresh personnel on the offensive end. We felt we had a ton of gas left."

The Blue Devils' tongues were hanging out, and it has to be a concern for John Danowski entering today's game because the Blue Devils aren't that deep. Meanwhile, Pietramala probably has more confidence now about winning the national championship than he did Saturday morning.

The Blue Hens were no match for Hopkins. The Blue Jays had only a 5-2 lead at the end of the third period, but it was as good as leading by 15 goals. If some of Hopkins' attackmen didn't shy away from contact at the top of the crease, this game would have been a blowout early.

At least Duke has been in this situation before where there is only a short turnaround before the next game. The Blue Devils played Dartmouth and Denver on back-to-back days in late February, and then Delaware and Bellarmine on consecutive days in late March. The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament is played with a one-day layoff between games.

"They are a great team, so we have to be prepared," Greer said. "Hopefully, we should be able to deal with this because we've already done it before a couple of times this season."

But not against back-to-back opponents the quality of Cornell and Hopkins. At least the Blue Jays had Delaware before Duke.

If it's close, the Blue Jays have a great chance because they have one of the nation's best faceoff specialists in Stephen Peyser.

Overall, the belief here is that Duke will still win because the Blue Devils have a great attack and great athletes, and are on a mission. But Saturday, they left a lot on that playing field. And no one knows for sure if the gas tank is half empty or half full.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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