Denver recovers from Duke letdown, thrashes Cleveland State 17-8

Photo courtesy DU Athletics

If the #5 University of Denver Pioneers had any lingering ill-effects after their fourth-quarter meltdown at Duke last weekend that saw the Blue Devils score the final seven goals to win 15-12. they certainly didn’t show them against the Cleveland State University Vikings today. The Pioneers rode Trevor Baptiste’s 22-for-22 day at the faceoff X and Ethan Walker’s six points to top the Vikings 17-8 on a sunny, cold afternoon at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium.

The Pioneers started the game slowly and sloppily through the first five minutes. Passes weren’t finding pockets and the Vikings were dominating possession through the first part of the first quarter. But with 9:25 left in the opening quarter, Walker finally found the back of the net for the first time and the Pioneers were off and running.

“It’s hard to say when you’re up 13-1 at halftime, but our first three possessions were not pretty,” DU head coach Bill Tierney said. “Once the guys settled down and stayed basic and did what Coach Brown teaches on offense and what Coach O teaches on D, we got going. Obviously with Trevor winning faceoffs, it was kind of make it, take it for a while there.”

By halftime, Denver had built a 13-1 lead and had the game well in-hand. It was all but certain that Tierney would play his backups for the second half since the rout was on. That’s precisely what happened, but Cleveland State wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. In fact, the Vikings forced 7 DU turnovers and outscored the Pios 5-1 in the third quarter and caused Tierney to put his starters and mainstays back on the field to regain control of the game.

The score was 14-6 by the fourth quarter and closer than most probably thought the game would be. However, when regulars like Baptiste, Walker, Austin French, and Sean Mayle took the field, the Pioneers took over the game once again and didn’t let CSU get any closer.

“The most disappointing thing is we weren’t clean today,” Tierney said. “I don’t mind if the guys don’t play great defense but we weren’t clean today and we have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

With the game well under control, Denver slowed the pace in the fourth quarter to kill as much time as possible and get to the final buzzer. Cleveland State still outscored Denver 3-2 in the final frame, but the Pioneers were able to successfully kill the rest of the clock and maintain the large lead and seal the victory.

Turnovers, especially in the second half, were a problem for Denver and were the biggest reason why the Vikings were able to climb back into the game. With two games in the Carolinas on the horizon (at Furman on March 3rd and at North Carolina on March 5th), Denver is going to need to clean some things up if they’re going to come back to Denver with two important victories.

“We need to get back to the basics,” Tierney said of the needed improvements before the trip to the east coast. “We need to make our guys practice harder in the situations that we messed up today. I don’t get quite as worried about that stuff because you can coach those things, you can work those things.”

The type of game Denver played today is exactly the kind of response you want to see after such a heartbreaking loss like the one they sustained at Duke. They beat a team they were supposed to beat and they won big. Despite the turnovers, Denver played a composed game and made sure they got the job done.