Trevor Baptiste spurs second half run as Pioneers run past Duke, 14-9

Photo courtesy DU Athletics

Between the third and fourth quarters today at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, junior All-American FOGO Trevor Baptiste won six straight faceoffs to lead the #1 University of Denver Pioneers to a big 14-9 victory over the #15 Duke University Blue Devils.

On the day, Baptiste went 17-for-25 at the X and even notched the game-winning goal in the fourth quarter as he won the faceoff and snapped a shot past Duke goaltender Danny Fowler. If there was a single player, and there usually never is with Denver, that was the difference-maker today, it was Baptiste. His play at the X, specifically in the second half is the reason Denver took over the game and kept Duke from coming back.

“We have one of the best faceoff guys in the country,” senior attack Connor Cannizzaro said. “Anytime he gets on a roll, it’s a special thing and it gets our team going.”

Until the fourth quarter, it was a very back and forth game between the Pioneers and Blue Devils. The biggest reason for that was Duke’s faceoff specialist, Kyle Rowe. Throughout the first half, Rowe kept the faceoff discrepancy close, winning 5 of 11 faceoffs in the first half. As a result, Denver held a slim 5-4 lead at halftime.

Denver’s defense and Duke’s offensive sloppiness in the first half kept the game close as the Pioneer’s offense was struggling to get going. Duke’s large defense kept Denver to the outside and minimized the Pios’ offensive chances, which was exactly what they needed to do if they were going to have a chance of upsetting the top team in the country.

“They like to press out, especially on the short [sticks],” Cannizzaro said of Duke’s defense. “It kind of disrupted our flow, but after a while, we got used to it and we just started playing our game.”

Denver’s, and specifically Baptiste’s halftime adjustments made the difference, though. Baptiste won four of the five faceoffs in the third quarter, but it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Denver took control of the game.

“I think it was just figuring out what he was doing,” Baptiste said of his adjustments to Rowe’s first half success. “He was switching up his moves, so finding a happy medium to find something that could beat both moves, that’s kind of what I was looking to. Ryan Harnisch and Sean Penna, the backup faceoff guys, they’re always watching, telling me what I need to look at, so they did a really good job helping me out.”

DU lead by no more than two goals at any point in the game until midway through the fourth quarter when North Carolina native Connor Flynn scored his second of the game to give Denver the 11-8 lead. Denver scored three more goals to cap the 6-1 run at the end of the game.

“Connor’s always had that ability,” DU head coach Bill Tierney said of Flynn’s productive game. “He’s tough to cover, he’s got a good shot. Practice is one thing, but you have to step up in a game once in a while. I thought he finally did that today.”

The Pioneers will be counting on the production of Cannizzaro and Ethan Walker throughout the year, but it was a really good thing for the Pioneers to see players like Flynn and Colton Jackson step up and provide offensive support when Cannizzaro and Walker are somewhat quiet to start the game.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier from here, so the scoring depth is going to play an important role for the Pios as the season wears on. Cleveland State and Canisius come to Denver next weekend for the Faceoff Classic, but defending national champion North Carolina and Notre Dame await the Pioneers in the following two weeks.

Beating Duke is always a good thing and it’s even better to do it in front of a huge home crowd (7th largest in DU history). As a result of today’s victory, Denver now leads the all-time series with the Blue Devils, 6-5.