- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

CHARLOTTESVILLE — It won’t take a perfect game for No. 3 Virginia to upend top-ranked Duke in next month’s NCAA tournament.

A complete game, though, wouldn’t hurt.

The Cavaliers stumbled through three quarters before scoring the final six goals in an 11-9 loss to the Blue Devils in the ACC tournament final at Klockner Stadium.

It was Virginia’s second loss in 16 days to a formidable Duke team and left the Cavaliers (12-3) flustered with their early sloppy play.

“We only played one quarter of lacrosse and lost by two,” said goalie Bud Petit, who made a career-high 18 saves. “We figured something out in that second half that I think most teams haven’t figured out. Honestly, I don’t know what it was, but we just started playing. If we play four quarters [that] way, we’ll have a lot better shot.”

Tournament MVP Dan Loftus, one of four fifth-year seniors that made the all-tournament team this season, made 17 saves as the Duke Blue Devils (15-1) won their second straight ACC title.

With Petit matching Loftus save for save, the more opportunistic team figured to thrive. For much of the day, that was Duke.

The Blue Devils built a 7-3 lead and extended it to 11-3 behind three extra-man goals in the third quarter. Through it all, it seemed the Cavaliers might endure an avalanche similar to the 19-9 loss to Duke on April 12, when the Blue Devils scored the final 10 goals.

“We just looked a little bit in awe in the first 20 minutes,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “All this talk about Duke and all the circumstances and everything else — I thought we stood around and gave them too many second-chance opportunities in the first half.”

Eventually but belatedly, the Cavaliers relaxed. Virginia converted three extra-man chances of its own and closed within 11-9 when Ben Rubeor (three goals) slung in a feed from Mike Thompson with 1:32 left.

Virginia couldn’t get closer, losing the next faceoff. The Cavaliers finally pried away possession with 51 seconds left, but Petit overthrew his clearing attempt, and Duke ran out the clock of its closest game since a 12-11 national title game loss to Johns Hopkins last year.

That was little solace for the Cavaliers, who have lost five straight to the Blue Devils.

It will take a deep postseason run for Virginia to earn a chance to halt that streak this year; the Blue Devils are a near-lock to be the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, while Virginia seems a safe bet to earn a No. 2 or No. 3 seed when the field is announced Sunday.

“If we play them again, it’ll be in the NCAA finals,” Starsia said. “We would look forward to that opportunity just to have earned our way back to play these guys again. There’s some lessons that we can take from this that we can apply the next time.”

Duke no doubt learned from this game as well, notably that it cannot expect a second meeting with an opponent to go quite the same way as the first. The Blue Devils also know this is the beginning of their postseason rigors, not the end.

“This is one of the stepping stones along the way,” Loftus said. “We set goals at the beginning of the season, and this is one of them, but the ultimate is at the end of the year to finish with a ring.”


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