Saturday provided lacrosse fans with a ton of action and suspense as Duke and Syracuse emerged victorious in the semifinal round at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Duke was able to hold off a late Cornell rally to escape with the victory, while Syracuse had to produce late offense to beat Denver in the fourth quarter.
Duke's defense was impressive in holding Steve Mock and Rob Pannell in check for most of the game, and they took a unique approach to do so. The duo combined for nine points, but that is pretty mild compared to their outbursts in the first two rounds of the tournament.
The Blue Devils decided to go without a slide to Pannell. This allowed him to roam while limiting his ability to find open teammates. Duke figured that Pannell was going to score no matter what, so they essentially challenged him to win the game on his own.
Duke goalie Kyle Turri stole the show for the Blue Devils. He finished with 16 saves. Many of those saves came down the stretch during big moments as Cornell tried to rally from behind.
Duke's offense was also rolling on Saturday. Jordan Wolf finished with four goals and an assist. His speed was too much for the Big Red defense, which allowed his teammates to roam free at the midfield. David Lawson, Case Matheis, and Jake Tripucka all finished with four points apiece for Duke.
In the second Final Four game on Saturday, Syracuse outplayed Denver in the second half to win the game 9-8. Syracuse, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, got a big game from All-American midfielder Jojo Marasco who finished with two goals and three assists. Marasco also gave the game winning feed to Luke Cometti during the final minute.
The Orange also buckled down of defense in the second half as they held a powerful Denver team to under 10 goals for the first time this postseason.
Denver then made a questionable goalie switch at halftime. They decided to go with its game plan despite the tremendous play of Ryan LaPlante in the first half. LaPlante finished with 13 saves in the first half, while his replacement Jamie Faus had only four saves in the second.
The stage is now set for Memorial Day as Duke and Syracuse will face off to decide a national champion at 1 p.m. In a season marked by parity, the national championship game looks like a toss up.
Both Syracuse and Duke are playing fantastic lacrosse and each have shown the ability to win close games by playing solid defense. After watching Duke handle Rob Pannell and Steve Mock with confidence on Saturday, I am going with the Blue Devils in the final. Their ability to come up with solid defensive schemes has been outstanding all year, and the Orange offense is inferior to those that they faced in the ACC this year.
Duke wins it 13-12.