O Pioneers! Denver Rallies to Win One for the West
|Denver rallied from 6-0 deficit
to win 12-11 on an Eric Law goal with 13 seconds left in
© AJ Mast
INDIANAPOLIS — In the NCAA's first quarterfinal doubleheader foray away from the East Coast, college lacrosse's flag-bearer for the West created a lasting memory.
Denver's Eric Law stuck a rebound off a Kieran Burke deflection of an Eric Adamson shot with 13 seconds left to lift the fourth-seeded Pioneers to an improbable 12-11 win over fifth-seeded North Carolina in a quarterfinal at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday.
Law's sixth point (three goals, three assists) punctuated the Pioneers' comeback from a 6-0 deficit — the largest ever overcome in this round — in the game's first 10 minutes, sending them to their second NCAA semifinal in three seasons and a matchup with Syracuse on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
"The play was designed for Adamson. He was the hot hand," Law said. "Burke made a great save. I saw it on the ground, picked it up and threw it as fast as I could. It wasn't until I got out of there that I realized we were up one and there were 13 seconds left."
North Carolina's R.G. Keenan — who had won just four of 15 faceoffs against Chase Carraro in the first half and was replaced by freshman Brent Armstrong — returned to win the game's final faceoff. He got the ball to Steve Pontrello, who appeared to have an opening as time wound down, but Pontrello retreated. By the time he decided to shoot, the ball was gobbled up by a host of Denver players, and the Pioneers appropriately mobbed goalie Jamie Faus.
"We're still trying to make our mark, to prove that great lacrosse can be played west of the Mississippi," said Law, a Colorado native and transfer from Salisbury University.
The Pioneers would not have the chance to bring the NCAA championship to the West were it not for Faus, a junior from Connecticut who was inserted after a dizzying 6-0 run by Carolina to start the game. Faus made 11 saves and allowed five goals — just two in the second half — during the game's final 50 minutes in relief of Ryan LaPlante.
"I didn't know I was going in, but you always have to be ready," said Faus, who started one game this season and saw time in 13. "When I got in, I just tried to get a feel for how our defense was playing. We were all calm. We went from there and just talked through everything."
"Jamie, we just threw him in there," Denver head coach Bill Tierney said. "[Volunteer assistant coach] Trevor [Tierney] made the move. I didn't know he was going to do it. Ryan wasn't playing poorly, but we had to stop that [run]. Just change it up."
Perhaps not initially, as the Heels led at halftime 9-4, but the move worked. Faus gave his team a chance, and with Carraro nearly dominant on faceoffs (he finished 17 of 26), the Pioneers set to work solving Burke and his best friend, the cage. No fewer than five Pioneers dinged the pipe in the first half; perhaps as many as seven. But Wesley Berg kept scoring — four goals in the first three quarters — and his zinger from the left wing through traffic closed Carolina's lead to 10-7 and set up a dramatic fourth quarter.
"We were timid in the first quarter, not ourselves and playing too slowly," Law said. "We played a lot faster after the first quarter. It was unusual to be down five at halftime but we kept our heads up because we hit six or seven pipes. We knew the defense would get some stops."
Law converted a feed from Cam Flint (three assists) at goal-line extended just 41 seconds into the final quarter, and Jeremy Noble finally brought Denver within 10-9 at the 8:51 mark when he managed to beat Burke despite falling down to evade Greg McBride. Davey Emala drove home a rebound after Faus couldn't control his save of Pontrello to restore Carolina's two-goal lead at 7:34.
From there, Colin Scott fired home an extra-man goal — the lack of such opportunities for the Tar Heels was cited by Tierney after recent penalty-laden wins over Fairfield and Ohio State — and Adamson delivered the equalizer by beating Mark McNeill down the left alley with 91 seconds to play.
Carraro won the ensuing faceoff to set up a timeout and the final drive by Adamson, whose shot from the right side found its way to Law on the left after Burke couldn't grasp the save.
"We've had games where the faceoffs haven't gone our way, and today was one of those days," said North Carolina senior defenseman Kieran McDonald. "We might have gotten a little tired at the end. Our communication could've picked up a little."
Tar Heel senior attackman Marcus Holman said the Heels might have "gotten a little comfortable with the early transition goals and being up 9-4 at halftime."
Tough to blame them, as Denver appeared a step slow — mentally or physically — on multiple occasions.
The Heels got four shots on their opening possession and finally scored when Emala blistered one in from the left wing on a pass from Joey Sankey. With just under nine minutes left, Flint turned the ball over to start a break for the Heels. McBride finished it with a behind-the-head pass to longpole Ryan Kilpatrick, who scored without harassment for a 3-0 lead.
Trading places with teammates at midfield, Carolina's Chad Tutton left Garret Holst safely behind and scored at 6:36 to give the Heels a 5-0 lead. Just over a minute later, freshman defenseman Evan Connell stripped Scott and went the distance, punctuating Carolina's run and giving their fans hope for the program's first final four berth in 20 years.
But it was not to be, and the Pioneers instead will carry the flag for Western lacrosse back to the East.