BALTIMORE – The Duke lacrosse team has taken its season of redemption to the brink of a championship.
The top-seeded Blue Devils blew a seven-goal lead, then got the winner from Zack Greer with 3 seconds left to beat previously unbeaten Cornell 12-11 Saturday and advance to the NCAA Division I title game.
Duke will seek its first championship Monday against Johns Hopkins, which defeated Delaware 8-3 in the lowest-scoring Final Four game in NCAA history.
The first game was a plodding affair, but the Duke-Cornell matchup turned out to be a classic. After the Blue Devils (17-2) let a 10-3 lead get away, Greer scored his fourth goal of the game, taking a pass from Peter Lamade and spinning past defenseman Danny Nathan before scoring in front of the net.
"It was an unbelievable pass, right on my stick. All I had to do was turn and throw it in," Greer said.
The two games drew a Final Four record crowd of 52,004.
Two years ago, the Blue Devils reached the championship game for the first time. But their 2006 season was canceled following a team party in which a stripper claimed she was assaulted by three Duke players.
The trio were charged with rape, kidnapping and sexual offense. The rape charges were dropped in December, and the case finally collapsed in April when North Carolina prosecutors declared the three players innocent.
Under first-year coach John Danowski, the Blue Devils have since made up for lost time. After losing twice in the regular season, they breezed past Providence and North Carolina in the playoffs before meeting Cornell, which won at Duke 7-6 on March 20.
"We lost our season last year and came back with a lot of talent," goaltender Dan Loftus said after stopping 16 shots. "I don't think anyone on our team didn't think we couldn't make a run for the national championship. We're here, and we're just trying to make the best of it. Thank God we won today."
In the rematch against Cornell, the Blue Devils (17-2) scored eight straight goals to turn a 3-2 deficit into a seemingly insurmountable lead with three minutes left in the third quarter.
But Cornell answered with a 8-1 run, drawing even on a goal by Brian Clayton with 17 seconds to go. Greer then scored his playoff-record 16th goal this spring.
"Our guys didn't give up, didn't despair and made a play at the end of the game," Danowski said.
Dave Mitchell had four goals for Cornell (15-1), which came in leading the nation in scoring average (14.2). The Big Red, however, went through an uncharacteristic 29-minute drought during Duke's 8-0 run.
"It's frustrating to go out this way when we thought we had such a great chance to advance," senior defenseman Mitch Belisle said. "But at the same time, it was a special season."
In the first game, Hopkins used a stifling defense and the goaltending of Jesse Schwartzman to eliminate surprising Delaware.
Stephen Peyser and Michael Kimmel each scored three goals for the Blue Jays (12-4), who never trailed in reaching the title game for the 17th time. The last time the Blue Jays made it to the championship game was in 2005, when they beat Duke 9-8.
This was Hopkins' 27th trip to the semifinals. Delaware (13-6) was in its first Final Four. Experience — and the superior defense — won out.
"I thought we played a spectacular game defensively and very good game in goal. I thought we were very good on the faceoffs," Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said. "But I thought we were poor offensively. We didn't have one of our better days."
Schwartzman finished with 10 saves as the last line of a Hopkins defense that held the Blue Hens nine goals under their season average.
"It was kind of a total team effort," Schwartzman said. "Our defense limited their opportunities. They took some shots I was able to see, and I was able to save most of them."
Hopkins pulled away with a three-goal surge, making it 6-2 early in the fourth quarter. Tom Duerr and Kimmel scored for the Blue Jays during a 42-second span in the final minute of the third period before Peyser scored with 14:05 left.
Delaware's Alex Smith, who holds the NCAA season and career record for faceoffs won, took only seven of 15 after going one of five in the opening 30 minutes.
"I felt in the first quarter they were anticipating the whistle well," Smith said. "They went on the whistle, they went early and they did a great job against me."
Hopkins went up 3-1 early in the third quarter on a goal by Kimmel. Delaware when J.J. Moran scored off a pass from Jordan Hall, who had the game's lone assist. That made it 3-2, but it would be the Blue Hens' last goal for nearly 22 minutes.
The Blue Jays held Delaware scoreless for the opening 25 minutes and led 2-1 at the break.