By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/25/13
Billy Conners said it feels special to come home to play lacrosse – especially when it’s for a shot at a National championship.
“It’s great to be able to play for the national championship,” said Conner. “It’s a privilege, and we are happy to be here.”
The Duke senior co-captain and defenseman played a major role along with fellow Malvern Prep grad Henry Lobb on defense while Lower Merion grad Jordan Wolf was an offensive star as the Blue Devils held off Cornell, 16-14, today in the NCAA men’s Division I semifinals before 28,444 at Lincoln Financial Field.
A crowd of 28,444 saw the Philly grads help Duke (15-5) reach the national finals for the second time in four years and earn a date Monday with Syracuse at 1 p.m. The Orange rallied past Denver, 9-8, with a late comeback in the second semifinal game.
“We are just a really balanced team,” Wolf said. “It seemed like everyone was making plays and we were sharing the ball. It really doesn’t matter who scores as long as were scoring.
“As for being home, it’s obviously a dream come true. It’s amazing to play at home, but I’m really just focused on the opponents and trying to minimize distractions.”
Duke’s victory came as a result of a stunning 11-1 run beginning midway through the second quarter after Cornell (14-4) had taken a 5-2 lead.
Wolf was a spark as the junior attackman scored three times from exactly the same spot – the X behind the cage. In each case he dodged, wrapped around the cage and then beat A.J. Fiore.
Duke also got a major lift offensively from a rare source – namely Conners. He scored with 1:30 left in the first half to tie the game, and then Wolf tallied his second goal 23 seconds later to give Duke a 7-6 halftime lead.
The spurt continued in the third period as Duke scored seven more goal and forged ahead 14-6. Then suddenly Cornell erupted for a 6-0 run of its own, capped by Pannell’s fifth goal, which gave him the NCAA’s all-time mark for points with 354 (breaking Duke’s Matt Danowski’s mark).
After David Lawson responded with a goal to make it 15-12, Cornell drew within 15-14 on two late goals, the second by Connor Buczek with 52.9 seconds left.
But Duke’s Brendan Fowler won the ensuing face-off and Wolf clinched it by scoring with 38.8 seconds to play.
Conners and Lobb (four groundballs), along with Chris Hipps had a strong game on defense in front of sophomore goalie Kyle Turri (16 saves).
Lobb did a solid job on Pannell (who converted five of 20 shots) and much of the time on Pannell, and Conners held senior attackman Steve Mock (60 gaols) to one goal on six shots.
The game plan was for Conners to stick to Mock and not do much sliding on Pannell.
“We wanted to deny Mock the ball when Pannell had it because they always look for each other,” said Conners. “So we wanted to take him out of the equation.”
Besides his defense, Conners flashed his ability to score on transition.
“It’s something we practice all of the time,” Conners said. “It was just the next play to help my team win.”
Wolf, who converted four of his five shots, was unstoppable from behind the cage.
“He possesses great natural speed and great skills, but his game is evolving where he’s becoming a smarter player,” said Duke coach John Danowski. ““That’s his wheelhouse, when he has the ball back there.
“I thought he was extremely patient, much more patient than I’ve seen him. (He was) taking the opportunities when they were there but not forcing the issue.
“We’re still trying to get him to dodge more lefty to make himself a little more dangerous, but he’s become stronger as he’s gotten older. He can take a beating when he gets to the goal line and still continue to move with speed and get above the goal line.”