Photo courtesy DU Athletics
Throughout the 2018 season, the Denver Pioneers men’s lacrosse team has had issues playing a full 60 minutes. A fourth quarter collapse against Duke in February cost them a big early season nonconference victory and a first quarter mishap against Notre Dame dug the Pioneers into a hole they couldn’t climb out of. Both of their regular season losses were directly related to the Pioneers’ inability to play to their potential for a full four quarters of lacrosse. Today, however, against Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, Denver played great lacrosse all game long and came away with a big 9-7 victory to end the Irish’s season for the second year in a row.
Tewaaraton Award Finalist Trevor Baptiste didn’t exactly have one of his banner days at the X. Notre Dame was able to successfully neutralize Baptiste’s presence at times but Denver’s defense picked up the slack when it needed to. When the Irish were able to grab possession, the Pioneers defensive corps, led by a great performance by Alex Ready between the pipes, kept Notre Dame’s offense at bay.
Denver caused most of their damage in the first half racing out to an early 2-0 lead through the first 14:52 of the game before closing the half with a 5-3 lead. Ethan Walker and Austin French led the way with two goals apiece in the first 30 minutes. Denver dominated play for most of the first half, but Notre Dame’s stout even-strength defense and Ryder Garnsey’s individual offensive effort, including a first-half hat trick kept the Irish in the game.
— NCAA Lacrosse (@NCAALAX) May 13, 2018
This game was almost the exact opposite of Denver’s first trip to South Bend in March which saw Denver give up an own goal in the first quarter. DU looked like a team on a mission to rid themselves of the demons of their incomplete efforts. Despite a few momentary lapses and turnovers in the second quarter, Denver looked to be well on their way to another NCAA Quarterfinal.
The second half was predictably a whole different adventure. What else would you have expected between the Pios and Irish?
Notre Dame came out of the locker room with a renewed vigor. Garnsey continued doing Garnsey things, scoring his fourth goal of the game in the third quarter while the Irish offensive adjustments opened things up and allowed Mikey Wynne and Bryan Costabile to score a goal apiece to tie the game at 6. It wasn’t a trademark “bad quarter” for the Pios but after such a great first half, it was a bit of a surprise that they had to regroup and reset things heading into the fourth.
Rather than let the moment get too big for them, Denver rose to the challenge all over the field in the fourth quarter. The Irish scored early in the fourth quarter to take their only lead of the day. But after that, it was all Denver. Baptiste looked like his normal self at the X again, the defense, aided by some key saves by Ready, held Notre Dame to one goal while Walker, French, and Colton Jackson each scored to seal the 9-7 victory.
— NCAA Lacrosse (@NCAALAX) May 13, 2018
Denver will travel to Long Island next weekend to play the second-seeded Albany Great Danes, a team that has been ranked in the top five all season and considered by many experts to be the best team in the country. Albany is led by their own legendary faceoff specialist in TD Ierlan who surprisingly leads the country in FO%, ahead of Denver’s Baptiste.
Yes, the game will be lacrosse’s version of Ali-Frazier at the X with Baptiste against Ierlan. But at a much higher level, the game will feature the country’s best scoring offense, Albany (14.59 goals per game) facing the country’s best scoring defense in Denver (7.47 goals allowed per game). Oh, and all of this is going to take place with a Championship Weekend berth on the line.
Denver’s victory over Notre Dame today was a major step forward and a great sign at this time of the year. But don’t be fooled. The Pioneers’ road to their second straight Final Four only gets more difficult from here.