- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2009

ANNAPOLIS — Duke opened the lacrosse season with a new attack, a new goalie and a new level of expectations for a program losing so many recognizable names.

The Blue Devils will end it in the same old place — the final four.

Third-seeded Duke fended off sixth-seeded North Carolina 12-11 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Sunday, clinching a third straight trip to the semifinals.

“I don’t think anybody here up front knew for sure we’d be here,” coach John Danowski said. “That’s part of the excitement.”

Ned Crotty had two goals and six assists, and Zach Howell added three goals for the Blue Devils (15-3), who will face second-seeded Syracuse (14-2) on Saturday in Foxborough, Mass.

Duke built a four-goal lead in the middle of the fourth quarter, but the Tar Heels (12-6) ripped off three straight goals to close within 12-11 with 6:10 remaining. But Carolina took only one shot the rest of the way: Sean Delaney’s attempt that sailed high as time expired.

It set off a celebration a bit different than the past two years. Whereas the 2007 Blue Devils’ story revolved around the return of the program a year after ultimately unfounded rape accusations rocked the school and last year’s team was known for its plethora of fifth-year stars, Duke was an unknown commodity entering the season.

Goalie Rob Schroeder had started one game in four seasons. Zach Howell moved from midfield to attack. So too did Crotty, who stepped into a void created by the departures of Matt Danowski and Zack Greer and emerged as perhaps the country’s best player.

While he was busy torching the Tar Heels, North Carolina attackman Billy Bitter found himself contained. Duke defenseman Mike Manley limited Bitter to two assists a week after Bitter roasted UMBC for eight goals in a first-round victory.

That combination was enough to secure Duke’s 13th victory in 14 games. The last time the Blue Devils played in a pro football stadium, they left Baltimore with a 2-2 record after a loss to Maryland and uncertainty about the direction of the season.

Duke will enter Gillette Stadium with a vastly different look — both from earlier this spring and years past.

“I think this final four trip is much more fulfilling than the previous two simply because of how far we’ve come,” Crotty said. “I don’t think anybody would have thought we’d be in this position.”

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