PHILADELPHIA — After a collision late in the first half of Saturday’s NCAA men’s lacrosse Final Four game, Virginia’s Michael Kraus remained on his knees and took a couple extra seconds adjusting his helmet before slowly trudging to the sideline in Lincoln Financial Field with his hands on his hips.
A little more than 35 minutes later, frustration turned to elation as sophomore Ian Laviano disappeared under a wave of teammates after he scored with 3:09 left in the second overtime period to clinch the Cavaliers’ 13-12 win over Duke and their first national championship game appearance since 2011.
“That was an incredible look by Matt and I just had to do the easy part and put it in the back of the net,” said Laviano, referencing sophomore attack Matt Moore, who was credited with the assist on the winning goal. “Matt did a great job of keeping his head up; I saw the shooting space and just took it.”
The goal was Laviano’s fourth of the game, and it gave the Cavaliers their first lead since the 4:55 mark of the first quarter. After Duke went up, 12-10, with 1:56 to play, it was Kraus and Laviano who scored goals barely 30 seconds apart to force overtime.
Saturday marked Virginia’s second straight NCAA Tournament game that went to overtime and its fifth of the season. The Cavaliers are now 5-0 in those games. They will face defending national champion Yale at 1 p.m. on Monday in the national championship game. The Bulldogs defeated top-seeded Penn State, 21-17, in the other semifinal.
It also marked the first time Virginia beat Duke since the 2010 ACC Tournament.
“I’m just really fortunate and grateful to have men who have committed to something larger and bigger than themselves,” Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany said. “Obviously, I have talented men, guys who can make plays. We saw a lot of turnovers and tentativeness early. I got more animated than usual at halftime and we responded.”
Virginia trailed, 5-2, at halftime, but Petey LaSalla won eight straight faceoffs in the second half and overtime and the Cavaliers ended regulation with three unanswered goals to force overtime. LaSalla finished 18-for-30 on the X.
“He has stood on his head all season, and he’s a huge part of why we were able to come back in these games,” Virginia senior Ryan Conrad said. “Petey has been huge this entire year, and this game is just another one of those days.”
After he was held scoreless in the first half, Virginia’s Dox Aitken notched two goals in 46 seconds to cut Duke’s lead to one with less than eight minutes left in regulation and set up yet another chance for the Cavaliers to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Whether it was in last weekend’s NCAA quarterfinal against Maryland, when the Cavaliers erased a five-goal deficit, or regular season wins over Notre Dame and Brown, rallies have become commonplace this season for the Wahoos.
“It just comes down to everything this team has put in, in the fall and the spring,” Conrad said. “We’ve been through a ton of adversity the entire year and to see us battle and game after game come back from behind; I wish we could make it easier on ourselves but the tenacity and the grit of this team is unparalleled.”
In the third quarter on Saturday, Duke scored two goals in seven seconds, but the Cavaliers ended the frame on a run sparked by LaSalla. Moments after Blue Devils faceoff man Brian Smyth won on the X and went straight to goal, LaSalla answered with a win on the X and his sixth goal of the season, which brought UVa within 8-5.
The third quarter ended with back-to-back goals by Moore, who scored his first two goals of the day in the frame, and Laviano, who snuck behind Duke goalie Turner Uppgren and put a one-touch shot into the net to send Virginia into the fourth trailing, 8-7.
“We win and lose as a team and I’m proud of my guys, but we simply weren’t good enough today to win,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “You have to hand it to Virginia. They played with grit and poise and they beat us.”
Virginia goalie Alex Rode had seven saves by intermission, but Duke ended the half with five unanswered goals. The Blue Devils peppered Rode in the first half with 12 shots on goal, while Virginia went into the locker room with just four. Through two quarters, the Cavaliers also turned the ball over 13 times. They finished with 18 turnovers.
In the first quarter, Rode came up with four big saves, including one where he followed a diving shooter to the ground to get his stick on the ball. He finished with 19 saves.
“To be honest, Alex hadn’t played his best lacrosse the past two games and there was competition this week,” Tiffany said. “But Alex earned it and, boy, did he step up today.”
Conrad opened the game with two quick goals. The second was his 11th in the past three games and gave UVa a 2-1 with 4:55 left in the first quarter.
That was Virginia’s final goal of the first half. Duke’s Brad Smith notched two of his three goals on the day during the Blue Devils’ 5-0 run, which former St. Anne’s-Belfield star Joe Robertson capped with an unassisted goal to send the Devils into halftime with their 5-2 lead.
When Aitken scored his first goal of the day early in the third quarter to cut Duke’s lead to 5-3, he ended a Virginia scoring drought that lasted 21:27. Aitken finished the game with a hat trick, while Moore and Conrad chipped in with two goals each.
Ron Counts covers University of Virginia athletics for The Daily Progress. Contact him at email@example.com, (434) 978-7245, or on Twitter @Ron_CDPsports.