Pioneers clinch fourth straight BIG EAST regular season title, top seed heading into conference tournament

Photo courtesy DU Athletics

Marquette goalie Cole Blazer once again played one of his best games in Denver making 14 saves but this time, it wasn’t enough. The #4 Denver Pioneers rode a balanced attack and a great performance from their own goalie, Josh Matte, to beat the Golden Eagles 7-4 and clinch their fourth straight BIG EAST regular season championship and enter next weekend’s BIG EAST Tournament as the top seed.

The Pioneers can attribute much of their 2018 success to their potent offensive attack. With Austin French and Ethan Walker quarterbacking the offense, Denver hasn’t had to worry about keeping up with other talented offensive teams. Today, however, it wasn’t DU’s offense that led them to victory; it was Denver’s stout defense and Matte’s timely saves that carried the day.

“When you look at today in particular, there’s not very much to be excited about except for our goalie and our defense,” DU head coach Bill Tierney said. “We just didn’t have it today offensively…I thought we settled for some shots that we normally don’t settle for. One thing you always forget is how well the other goalie played and he was very very good. He’s always played well against us.”

As well as Blazer played for Marquette, Denver’s defense wouldn’t let the Golden Eagles gain any momentum from his play between the pipes. DU stifled the Marquette attack and rendered Matte irrelevant at times. While Blazer kept Marquette in the game, especially in the second half, it was Matte’s performance that put the kibosh on any potential Golden Eagle comeback.

While the offense struggled, senior star faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste led the way winning 11-of-13 faceoffs and added a goal of his own on Senior Day while Walker added three assists and French tallied a hat trick. It wasn’t a total lost cause on offense but it certainly wasn’t the performance fans are accustomed to seeing at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium.

“It means a lot,” Baptiste said of winning the regular season title. “It’s something special, on Senior Day as well. You always have to count your blessings with every opportunity you get to play at Peter Barton Stadium.”

Regardless of how it came, the victory is an important one. Denver has the inside track on taking home another BIG EAST Tournament title and it will only enhance their NCAA Tournament resume which, surprisingly, isn’t as strong as it probably should be. That’s not to say that their path to the conference title will get any easier. There’s a good chance that they’ll have to play the thorn in their side they call Marquette once again in the semifinal round on Thursday.

“We have a lot of work to do coming into this week,” Baptiste said. “It’s going to be a tough matchup [potentially] playing the same team back-to-back. We’re really excited.”

The game wasn’t pretty for the Pioneers, but they’re not going to give it back. They are and should be pleased with the win, which also clinched another undefeated season in conference play. The real season is just starting, though and the slate is wiped clean. The Pioneers are playing for their lives again. This time, they’re planning on bringing home a couple new pieces of hardware.