One week after an offensive avalanche overwhelmed No. 5 Duke, the two-time defending national champions, the unseeded Buckeyes raced out to a 7-1 lead over fourth-seeded Denver in an NCAA quarterfinal Saturday evening.
But Denver responded with nine consecutive goals and closed out the game efficiently, reaching its fourth NCAA final four in the past five years with a 15-13 win at Invesco Field in Denver.
It was the Buckeyes’ third-ever appearance in an NCAA quarterfinal but unlike two years ago when OSU was drubbed by Cornell in the round of eight, this time a Buckeye team used to slaying college lacrosse’s giants hung around for the duration.
Ohio State gave it a good run, getting three goals and five assists from star senior Jesse King, but Denver boasts one of the nation’s best offenses and pulled away by scoring 15 goals on 20 shots on net, allowing OSU only eight clearing attempts and 25 ground balls.
Carter Brown, John Kelly and Colin Chell scored twice apiece for the Buckeyes, who also got standout performances from some unexpected places before finishing the season 12-7 under head coach Nick Myers.
Denver was just too good in too many places, as Wes Berg reached 50 goals on the year with six tallies and Sean Cannizzaro scored twice in the first 1:35 of the fourth to extend what was just a 10-9 lead for the Pioneers after three quarters. Goalie Ryan Laplante at one point made nine consecutive saves without giving up a goal before finishing with 13 stops.
Cannizzaro’s tallies gave DU a 12-9 lead the home team extended to 14-10, but David Planning scored on a two-man advantage with 8:06 left to pull the Buckeyes within three. But Kelly was denied on Ohio State's next possession and Denver held the ball for the next two and a half minutes before the Buckeyes committed a penalty, and the Pioneers scored at the end of the one-minute man advantage with 3:04 to go to basically salt away the win.
That ended a 14-4 run for the Pioneers’ skilled attackers, overwhelming what had been a dream start for the Buckeyes.
King pulled the strings in the early going, putting OSU on the board on the first possession of the game. He dodged one defender, spun around another and ran into a third, but just when it looked as though he was going to be in danger of losing the ball, he spied Chell at the doorstep for a sweet feed and goal that made it 1-0.
Denver answered to tie the game before Ohio State went on a 6-0 run marked by success at the faceoff X thanks to Jake Withers and efficient offense. King completed his hat trick and had a number of perfect dishes, two to Brown as the Buckeyes built a 7-1 lead.
But after Ohio State scored the first goal of the second quarter, it was all Denver, as the Pioneers turned things around on faceoffs and got excellent saves from Laplante on Kelly and Reegan Comeault. Meanwhile, Berg completed the hat trick by halftime and the Pioneers pulled to within one at 7-6 at the break.
Denver then continued to impose itself early in the third quarter, as Erik Adamson scored 36 seconds into the half to tie the score and Berg put Denver on top at the 10:49 mark. Laplante shined – even denying King from the doorstep at one point – as the Pioneers completed their nine-goal run to take a 10-6 lead.
But just when it looked like Denver could run away and hide, the Buckeyes answered. Chell ended a nearly 26-minute goal-less streak for OSU when he scored off a pass from Turner Evans with 1:30 left in the third to make it 10-8, and Johnny Pearson rifled home a bullet in the final minute – his second goal of the year – to make it 10-9 before Denver’s strong run early in the fourth cemented the game.
Ohio State turned to sophomore Withers for faceoffs instead of the usual Christopher May, and Withers won 15 of 29 against a Denver team that entered best in the nation on draws. Withers had a 6-2 advantage in the first quarter to help OSU to its early lead, and he also scored a goal in the fourth quarter, his first of the year.