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Sunday, April 29, 2007
Duke lacrosse beats Virginia in tournament final

Associated Press

DURHAM, N.C. -- Matt Danowski and his fellow seniors had helped Duke win 40 games in their careers and reach the NCAA championship game in 2005.

Now, they can add another impressive -- and more significant -- accomplishment to their resumes.

Danowski and Zack Greer each scored three goals Sunday and the Duke lacrosse program continued its triumphant return by beating Virginia 12-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship.

Danowski was the tournament's most valuable player for the top-seeded Blue Devils (13-2), who won their fourth title and first since 2002.

It's the latest on-field highlight for the Blue Devils in the road back from a rape scandal that led to charges against three former teammates -- who were ultimately exonerated -- and the cancellation of much of last season. Duke has won eight straight games heading into next weekend's regular-season finale against Air Force, followed by a trip to the NCAA tournament in hopes of winning the title that eluded the Blue Devils in '05.

"For us as seniors, we talked about leaving a legacy here," said Danowski, honored as the ACC player of the year earlier this week. "It's another testament to the character of the guys on this team and the way we've stuck [together] throughout this whole thing, kept our noses clean and just kept going and stayed with it.

"Today's one of those payoffs. But you can't fall back on that. It's not the end-all, be-all for us."

Included in the current win streak is a pair of victories against the Cavaliers (12-3), the defending ACC and national champions.

In the first meeting, the Blue Devils didn't lead until Brad Ross' around-the-world shot in overtime for a 7-6 win that clinched the tournament's top seed. The victory also capped an emotionally exhausting month for the Blue Devils in which the state attorney general dropped all remaining sexual offense and kidnapping charges against former players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans.

The first meeting served almost as a measuring stick for the Blue Devils, proving that their program had not taken a significant slide during the hiatus. The second only reinforced that point -- though this time with a ACC championship trophy to back it up.

Virginia coach Dom Starsia called Duke "maybe the best lacrosse team in the country."

"It seemed like we paid for every little mistake we made," he said.

Trailing 4-3 at halftime, the Blue Devils took control with a dominating third period. Duke scored seven goals, its second-highest total for one period all season, with Greer and Mike Catalino each scoring twice in the period.

"At halftime, although we were down by a goal, we were all pretty calm," Duke coach John Danowski said. "We just said, 'It's going to happen. Keep playing.'"

His team responded with a five-goal burst, ending with a putaway from Matt Danowski, to start the second half and force the Cavaliers to start playing catch-up. It was a tough task against goalkeeper Dan Loftus, who had some point-blank stops among his 14 saves.

Much of the Blue Devils' success also centered on Danowski, who scored a pair of impressive unassisted goals in the first period to keep Duke close after an early 2-0 deficit.

"Teams have to key in on him or he's going to explode in games," said Greer, who also had three assists. "He draws so much attention that it opens it up for everyone else. And as long as people are putting the ball in the net, that's a huge threat to have everyone firing on all cylinders."

That was evident when Virginia had closed the gap to 10-8 early in the fourth on Ben Rubeor's score. After Danowski drew multiple defenders before getting off a shot, a by-himself Greer managed to grab the rebound and bury it with 4:24 left. Max Quinzani added a goal about a minute later to seal the victory.

Rubeor and Garrett Billings each scored three goals to lead the Cavaliers.