FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — On Thursday afternoon, Duke goalie Dan Wigrizer began to prepare for one of the biggest games of his life by using tennis balls instead of lacrosse balls. It wasn't until Saturday night that the Blue Devils' coaching staff gave the sophomore the green light to play.
And on Sunday afternoon, before an announced crowd of nearly 14,000 at Gillette Stadium, Wigrizer and the Blue Devils turned in their best defensive effort of the season as No. 5 seed Duke used three fourth-quarter goals to defeat No. 4 seed Notre Dame, 7-5.
With the quarterfinal win, Duke advances to the final four at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Blue Devils (14-5) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday will meet unseeded Maryland (12-4), which upset top seed Syracuse Sunday, 6-5, in sudden-death overtime.
"That Maryland team is dynamite. We know them so well because we play them so often," said Duke coach John Danowski, whose team split with the Terps in two games this season. "They have 20 seniors. They have Grant Catalino. They have Ryan Young. They are tough, emotional and have a great faceoff unit. At this point in the season, nobody sneaks in on anybody, not when you beat Syracuse."
But Danowski was equally impressed with the Blue Devils' effort Sunday, especially on defense. A week ago, Duke barely held off Delaware, 15-14, in an opening-round win. Wigrizer missed the game with a concussion after getting hit in the face with a shot in practice.
Twice last week, Wigrizer said, he took tests to see whether he could play against Notre Dame but failed. On Thursday night, he got permission to start preparing. Danowski didn't decide to start Wigrizer until midnight Saturday.
Wigrizer finished with 14 saves. He frustrated Notre Dame (11-3), especially in the second half. The Fighting Irish and Blue Devils were tied at 3 at the half and Notre Dame junior midfielder Max Pfeifer scored on a man-up situation to tie the score at 4 with 2:30 left in the third quarter, but the Fighting Irish didn't score again until 16 seconds remained in the game.
Duke defensemen Tom Montelli, Chris Hipps and Bill Conners kept constant pressure on Notre Dame's attack and kept pushing the group farther from the goal and creating bad angles.
And Wigrizer was superb.
"Thursday was my first full practice, and I just wasn't going to let it get to my head that I hadn't taken many shots," Wigrizer said. "I knew they were going to come out shooting. They were going to start taking shots right away, which they did. The first possession they had, they just kept shooting and shooting. During the game, I was trying to stay relaxed and calm. Our defense did a good job of keeping them outside the paints, and they made it easy for me to see shots and easy for me to make saves."
Danowski was a little surprised by his goalie's strong performance.
"When you get a concussion from a shot, a lesser man might be a little squeamish about stepping back in there," the coach said.
While Wigrizer was shutting down Notre Dame — which outshot the Blue Devils 34-28 and out-hustled them on ground balls 27-18 — Duke's offense dominated the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils won three of five faceoffs in the period and outshot Notre Dame 10-5. Freshman attackman Jordan Wolf scored the first goal of the fourth quarter with 13:30 left after beating sophomore midfielder Quinn Cully off a late slide near the right of the crease.
Senior attackman Tucker Virtue made it 6-4 nearly three minutes later when he scored on a 15-yard laser from out front, and Duke essentially sealed the win with a goal by junior midfielder Robert Rotanz with 3:44 remaining.
"I think it was pretty clear if you watched that game that we know each other well," Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said. "I don't think it is complicated stuff — you got to make plays at this time of year to win games, and we didn't make enough plays. We had our opportunities — we just didn't finish them. They finished them more than we did."