- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 28, 2011

BALTIMORE — Denver’s run to the final four emerged this month as the feel-good story of the lacrosse season.

Virginia’s potent attack, though, quickly put an end to the Pioneers’ fun.

The seventh-seeded Cavaliers shredded sixth-seeded Denver 14-8 in the NCAA semifinals Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, securing a spot in their first championship game since 2006.

Virginia (12-5), which has won five straight, will meet the Maryland on Monday. It will be the first all-ACC championship game since 1986.

Steele Stanwick had three goals and two assists for the Cavaliers, who got 17 points (11 goals and six assists) from five players who have made at least one start at attack this season.

“We thought we could attack Denver from behind the goal … ,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “By attacking from behind the goal, you need a little time to get that organized. At the same time, it gives you a chance to control the pace of play and we were effective doing it.”

Jeremy Noble had three goals for the Pioneers (15-3), who lost in their first game on the sport’s biggest stage.

It quickly became apparent Denver’s stay would be brief, largely because of the Cavaliers’ posse of attackmen.

Stanwick, who has 20 points in the postseason and will need six more on Monday to set the tournament record, continued his solid play. And much as he was all spring, Chris Bocklet was an effective finisher, scoring three goals.

But both stars simply did what they’ve always done. Perhaps more impressive were the contributions of sophomores Nick O’Reilly and Matt White and freshman Mark Cockerton.

All three took turns throughout the season as Virginia’s third attackmen, none of them distinguishing themselves until May. But with midfielder Colin Briggs sitting out Saturday for what Starsia described as a “team matter,” all three had the chance to provide help against Denver.

White, who emerged late in the regular season, came out of the midfield after doing so for part of a quarterfinal defeat of Cornell. The Pioneers couldn’t handle his slickness from up top, and White wound up with a goal and two assists.

Meanwhile, O’Reilly contributed a goal and an assist from the third attack spot, while Cockerton — a regular on Virginia’s second midfield — added three goals and an assist as another difficult matchup.

Indeed, Denver found Virginia a much more athletic opponent than the Johns Hopkins outfit it dispatched in last weekend’s quarterfinals — and that was despite the Cavaliers being down Briggs, Shamel Bratton (dismissed from the team) and Rhamel Bratton (indefinitely suspended) in the midfield.

The Cavaliers scored the first two goals and earned a 4-1 edge in the first eight minutes before Denver coach Bill Tierney called timeout to settle his team. It didn’t work, as the Cavaliers plowed their way to a 9-2 lead at the half.

“That and the second quarter of the Cornell game, I felt those runs were very similar,” midfielder Rob Emery said. “It was like we couldn’t miss. It was unbelievable.”

The sizzling shooting continued a month-long trend for Virginia, which is shooting 40-for-92 (43.5 percent) in the tournament.

There was a slight hint the Pioneers could make a push just after the break when Mark Matthews — who so skillfully orchestrated the upset of Hopkins — scored his first goal of the day. Off the ensuing faceoff, Virginia goalie Adam Ghitelman (10 saves) stuffed Denver’s Alex Demopoulos on a break.

“Huge save,” Starsia said. “I would have preferred they didn’t score in the first 30 seconds of the third quarter. They get it right inside to Matthews, obviously the kid we had great concerns about. To come back and make the save, it just seemed like Adam played very well and also he was especially there when we needed him to be there.”

The Cavaliers then needed a little more than three minutes to score three times to make it 12-3 and all but finish off the Pioneers’ chances.

Denver’s offense, its greatest strength throughout the season, was confounded for the first three quarters as Virginia stuck with a zone defense it turned to in the second half of the season. Before the Pioneers rattled off three goals in 37 seconds, there wasn’t much for Denver to feel good about.

The same couldn’t be said for Virginia, which despite a 1-4 midyear slide and plenty of team tumult finds itself where so many figured it would be back in February — playing on the season’s final day.

“My first two years, we’re going home at this time,” Stanwick said. “It’s just an amazing feeling. The job’s not done yet, but we’re excited for what happens on Monday.”

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