Photo courtesy DU Athletics
DENVER – Air Force really never had a chance. Trevor Baptiste was on fire both at the X and in the offensive half of the field and he nearly singlehandedly ended the Falcons’ season as his 5th-seeded University of Denver Pioneers topped the Air Force Academy 17-10.
Baptiste, Denver’s lone Tewaaraton Award finalist, won 23 of 27 faceoffs and netted two goals on the day. It wasn’t just the ‘Trevor Baptiste show’ at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, though. Austin French, Connor Cannizzaro, and Max Planning all netted hat tricks while freshman phenom Ethan Walker added four points of his own.
“I think it really came down to wing play,” Baptiste said of his performance at the X. “We had a really good plan coming in. I think Danny Logan and Colin Squires really stepped up on the wing. We had a great gameplan and we all worked together to get it done.”
“After two years of first team All-American, you kind of think, what else can he do better?” DU head coach Bill Tierney added, talking about Baptiste’s dominance. “You saw it today, they were chasing him with two and he was kind of wiggling his way out. He made great decisions through a couple of simple passes to Connor [Cannizzaro]. Those things, they look simple, but they really aren’t. He’s in my mind the best player in the country.”
It didn’t become the Pioneers’ game until after halftime, though. Denver held a slim three-goal lead at halftime and the upset-minded Falcons felt like it wasn’t over yet. Led by Baptiste’s two goals in the opening two minutes, the Pioneers quickly put any upset thoughts to bed. Denver put up three goals in the opening 2:15 of the quarter to double their lead at 9-3. All of a sudden, the Pioneers were playing their best lacrosse of the year and the bad taste of last year’s NCAA First Round loss to Towson and last weekend’s loss to Marquette was gone.
“That was definitely on all of our minds coming into the game,” Cannizzaro said of the Towson game from a year ago. “We wanted to come out and prove that’s not us, that’s not our team last year and we’re a totally different team this year. It was a good game, a good all-around team effort.”
By the end of the third quarter, Denver had a 13-7 lead and had broken a program NCAA Tournament record. With their seven goals in the third quarter, Denver set the program’s new record for most goals scored in a single quarter in the history of the NCAA Tournament. After such a dominant quarter, the Pioneers went on cruise control for the fourth quarter to advance to the quarterfinal round with relative ease.
“I walked in the room and I said, ‘Fellas, i’m going to give you two choices,” Tierney said, explaining his halftime message. “‘Number one, I can rant and rave and tell you how terrible we played or you can keep shooting as many shots as you want in the second half. What’s your vote?’ It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out and I walked out. They just wanted to shoot.”
After a less-than-inspiring game against Marquette in the semifinal round of the BIG EAST Tournament last weekend, there was some concern that Denver’s transition play might struggle again against Air Force. The Pioneers quickly proved those concerns unfounded today and once again showed why they’re a serious threat to bring a trophy home from Boston at the end of the month.
If Denver is going to earn another three victories, Trevor Baptiste will have to replicate his performance today three more times. If history is any indication, that may not be a problem for the Tewaaraton Award finalist. If Baptiste keeps winning faceoffs and scoring goals, watch out, Denver may just bring home their second title in three years.