A clash between men’s college lacrosse’s two westernmost teams both located along the I-25 corridor occurred May 13 at the Lacrosse Capital of the West, Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. Never trailing in the game, the hosts and fifth-seeded DU Pioneers soundly defeated the Air Force Academy (AFA) Falcons 17-10 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Faceoff extraordinaire and Tewaaraton finalist Trevor Baptiste (Denville, New Jersey) continued to redefine the position at the X, as he was successful in 23-of-27 draws, scored twice and collected 18 ground balls to lead the Pioneers to the victory.
“He’s just an amazing, amazing young man, and in my mind the best player in the country,” DU Head Coach Bill Tierney said.
Denver, one of four programs (University of Maryland, University of Notre Dame, Syracuse University) to have hosted a first-round NCAA Tournament matchup in each of the last five seasons, will advance to the second round for the first time since 2015, the same year the Pioneers claimed their first national title. In 2016, DU was the No. 2 seed and fell in the first round to Towson University.
A slow start on Denver’s end, despite a three-goal lead, was quickly diminished. The Pioneers knew their first half performance wasn’t meeting their elite level of play and Tierney could attest.
“I walked in the room and I said, ‘Fellas, I’m going to give you two choices. I can rant and rave and tell you how terrible we’ve played, or you can keep shooting as many shots as you want in the second half. What’s your vote?’” said Tierney.
The Pioneers carried on to dominate the Falcons, outscoring them 11-7 in the second half and finishing with a 46-23 shots on goal advantage.
Denver had six different players to complete the afternoon with multiple points. Senior captain Connor Cannizzaro (Cazenovia, New York), classmate Max Planning (Alexandria, Virginia) and sophomore attack Austin French (Danville, California) all boasted hat tricks. Freshman attack Ethan Walker (Peterborough, Ontario) added two goals and dished two helpers, junior midfielder Connor Donahue (Groton, Massachusetts) had three points (two goals and an assist) and Baptiste had two goals.
Despite Air Force’s final efforts, the Pioneers emerged victorious in the contest. Tierney reflected on the experience of facing military academies over the years as he currently models some military characteristics in how he runs the DU program.
“I have such respect for [AFA Head Coach] Eric Seremet. Any time you play a United States Military Academy, any of them, you kind of get this feeling inside like, these are the kind of people you want playing our game. It’s an honor to play them,” Tierney said. “You see them running out of the locker room with that [American] flag coming [and]you kind of go, ‘Wow, this is special.’ We’ve been fortunate to be on the good side of the most recent games. You never get second best from those [AFA players]. I’m proud to be on the same field with those guys.”
The Pioneers will face the University of Notre Dame on May 20 in Hempstead, New York at Hofstra University.