About an hour after Duke’s 14-9 victory over Johns Hopkins in an NCAA Quarterfinal on Sunday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, stadium workers had moved on from lacrosse and were beginning to assemble the stage for the Naval Academy graduation ceremony on Friday.
Graduation is on the mind of a lot of colleges in mid- to late May. But for the Duke lacrosse program, freshmen are on the mind as well. Because it was a couple of freshmen — attackman Joe Robertson and midfielder Nakeie Montgomery — who led the way for the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (15-3) against the fifth-seeded Blue Jays (12-5).
Robertson scored the opening goal on the opening possession to give Duke a lead it did not lose. He finished with two goals and took 10 shots, an unusually high number for a freshman on such a big stage.
Montgomery added two goals — both in the final seven minutes — to secure the victory and send the Blue Devils to Championship Weekend for the first time since 2014.
The Blue Jays came close: They closed their deficit to 9-8 midway through the fourth quarter. But Montgomery scored on consecutive possessions for an 11-8 lead that wasn’t threatened.
“We’ve seen glimpses [of Montgomery’s excellence] in practice and games,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “Of him having this ability to have a nose for the goal. Hopkins was trying not to slide. So we needed to run by somebody.”
A pair of seniors also helped the Blue Devils reach their first Championship Weekend since winning the title in 2014. Attackman Justin Guterding scored three goals, giving him 207 in his career to set an NCAA record. And fifth-year goalie Danny Fowler finished with 11 saves.
The Blue Jays entered with a high-scoring trio of attackmen, each of whom showed he was capable of taking over a game. In the Big Ten Championship, sophomore Cole Williams scored three goals in the fourth quarter of a 13-10 victory over Maryland. One game later — in the NCAA Tournament First Round — junior Kyle Marr scored five fourth-quarter goals in a 10-9 overtime victory over Georgetown.
The winning goal against the Hoyas came from the third starting attackman, senior Shack Stanwick.
Complementary players led the surge on Sunday. Early in the fourth quarter senior Patrick Fraser scored an extra-man goal – the 30th and final of his career – to cut the deficit to 9-6. Fraser then intercepted a clearing pass and fed senior defensive midfielder Christopher Hubler, who scored in transition to cut the deficit to 9-7 with 10 minutes 19 seconds to play.
Off another failed clear, Hubler fed Marr for a fast-break goal to cut the deficit to 9-8 with 7:11 to play. A mandatory timeout followed. The crowd of 13,047, somewhat lulled to sleep by the unseasonably warm temperatures and Duke’s early dominance, suddenly sprang to life.
The afternoon bristled with potential. And that potential soon had a name: Montgomery’s. He entered the NCAA tournament with six goals on 31 shots (19 percent).
In two NCAA games he is 5 for 11 (45 percent).
“It is hard to have a 9-8 lead and not play tight,” says Guterding. “Our guys, Nakeie Montgomery coming in as a freshman with the 9-8 lead and scoring two goals is huge for our offense and our confidence.”
It marked the second consecutive year the Blue Devils ended Johns Hopkins’ season. But the similarities end there. Last year’s loss was a 19-6 debacle on a chilly, rainy day before a sparse crowd in Baltimore.
Sunday’s game was tight into the final minutes. Marr and Williams each scored two goals for the Blue Jays.
Stanwick added two assists in the final game for he and his siblings, all eight of whom played Division I lacrosse. (Shack is the youngest.) The journey began March 7, 1998; oldest sister Sheehan played her first game at Georgetown as a freshman, a 15-7 victory over Vanderbilt in Washington, D.C. The family’s journey ended Sunday.
But Shack Stanwick is part of a senior class that left its mark on the Johns Hopkins program. The group re-dedicated the culture and took on three hallmarks: Enduring, resilient and resolute.
“I can’t emphasize enough how proud I am of this team,” Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “Coming off of last year and the drubbing we took [against Duke] there was a lot of soul searching, a lot of changes made. Coaches and players. And we decided we were going to readjust our culture. Clearly we’ve done that. … This group has been unbelievable.”
But on a day where Annapolis hosted the Bay Blues Music Festival, plus the Blue Devils and Blue Jays, there was only one winner. Guterding finished with three goals and two assists and sophomore Brian Smyth won 18 of 25 face-offs and added nine groundballs.
“Certainly no lead is safe when you face Johns Hopkins,” Danowski says. “Especially this year. Very proud of our guys for when it became 9-8 for just taking a deep breath, a couple guys made plays. Brian Smyth won a couple face-offs Nakeie Montgomery scored a couple big goals. Just proud of the way the guys responded.”