Adam Ghitelman and the Hoos will face Maryland for the national title on Monday.
BALTIMORE – Coming into Saturday’s game against No. 6 Denver, Virginia coach Dom Starsia repeated multiple times that the Cavaliers were the underdogs.
After the game, you would probably have to disagree with him. UVa showed what many had expected of the team from the beginning of the season, beating the Denver Pioneers in a rout by a final score of 14-8 in the NCAA Tournament Semifinals.
Virginia’s dominance started early when junior Steele Stanwick found the back of the net just 3 minutes from the start of the game. That kicked off a 4-1 Cavalier run, with goals from junior Chris Bocklet, sophomore Nick O’Reilly, and another from Stanwick.
The Pioneers made it a two-goal game after a laser from freshman Jeremy Noble slipped past Virginia goalie Adam Ghitelman with 5:25 remaining in the first half. But that only spurred the Cavaliers to pour it on even more. The Hoos ripped off a 5-0 scoring run to end the first half with goals from freshman Rob Emery, sophomore Matt White, junior Matt Kugler, freshman Mark Cockerton, and another from Bocklet.
“If you talk about how you’d like to script the first half, it probably wouldn’t have been much different than what you saw on the field,” Starsia said.
The large halftime lead did at least present Virginia with somewhat of a strategy challenge.
“We had a little concern at halftime, having to play 30 more minutes against a quality team … and stuck trying to find a balance between taking some time off the clock while also trying to keep the tempo as best we can,” Starsia said.
UVa seemed to find an appropriate balance despite the crowd of 45,039 booing at the Cavaliers’ slow pace. Virginia outscored the Pioneers 4-2 in the third quarter to own a 13-4 lead with just 15 minutes left to play.
Denver made the fourth quarter a little exciting, scoring three goals in 37 seconds. After a timeout, however, an almost 3 minute possession ensued before sophomore Cockerton stopped the Pioneer momentum with his third goal of the day with 11:45 remaining. After Cockerton’s goal, Virginia stalled its way to a well-deserved 14-8 win.
Overall, it was another impressive game by Stanwick, who has emerged as the “point guard” of the offense since the suspension of Rhamel Bratton and dismissal of Shamel Bratton. On this day, Stanwick had 3 goals and 2 assists, bringing his point total for the tournament to 20. Stanwick needs just two more points to tie Matt Ward’s program record of 22 from the 2006 NCAA Championship run.
“Anyone that knows enough about lacrosse to appreciate someone’s skill level will tell you that kid has really special skills,” Starsia said. “But he’s also just a great kid. His real skill is making everyone around him better. As we have retooled our offense here in the past few weeks, what we do now is that … the ball goes to Steele every possession. And nobody minds.”
For Stanwick, a Baltimore native and three-sport athlete at Loyola Blakefield in neighboring Towson, Saturday’s game had a lot special meaning.
“To play well and get the win means the world to me,” Stanwick said.
Virginia next faces Maryland for the National Championship. It will be the first appearance in the title game for every member of this Cavaliers’ squad, something which all of them are looking forward to on Monday.
“I’ve been to [the Final Four] two times in my career but hadn’t been able to win,” Stanwick said. “The job’s not done by any means, but overall, I’m excited.”