|(above) The Western Warlock prepares the stormtroopers for Baltimore|
by Cris Mascaro
Back onto Long Island strutted the truest lacrosse pioneers. And not only in name. The sport's newest hotbed has emerged in the Rocky Mountains, at the University of Denver, with a cosmopolitan roster and a sage head coach.
Saturday at Hofstra, Canadian Cameron Flint and Minnesotan Todd Baxter each scored three goals as the Bill Tierney-led Denver Pioneers upset perennial power Johns Hopkins, 14-9, in an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal. The Rocky Mountain rebels, the No. 6 seed, advanced to their first national semifinal with their 12th straight win. Tierney, whose early coaching stops include Great Neck South High School, Levittown Memorial and Adelphi, is vying for his seventh championship -- the first six at Princeton.
Tierney is making the most of his time at Denver. Last week, the Pioneers won the first NCAA Tournament game west of the Mississippi, and Saturday, they earned their second win of the season on Long Island against a national powerhouse. They defeated Duke at Bethpage High on April 9, after which someone had some interesting words for Tierney.
"Someone came up to me and said, 'Just think, now you can recruit good players,' " Tierney recalled. "I kind of looked at our roster and said, 'We've got some pretty good players.' We're from 20 different states, and it's all part of what we're going through."
Denver (15-2) is well into a lacrosse transformation. But the task at hand Saturday was on more of a micro level.
Baxter scored on an assist from Alex Demopoulos with 10:10 left in the first half to give the Pioneers a 6-1 lead, but the No. 3 Blue Jays (13-3) scored six of the next eight goals to get within 8-7 with 7:16 to play in the third.
Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, from Hicksville, admitted his team didn't give Denver enough respect: "Kids understand certain things. They understand Syracuse, they understand Virginia, they understand Carolina, teams that have won championships. This was a new team for us."
Baxter ended Hopkins' run with a goal on an assist from Canadian Mark Matthews. Henry Miketa of Colorado scored 34 seconds later, and soon Denver had its largest lead at 13-7. Hopkins hadn't allowed more than 11 goals all season.
"It's exciting [because] we didn't think it would happen so soon," Flint said of his team's rapid ascent. "We're all looking forward to the Final Four."
Ontario native Jeremy Noble had two goals and three assists for Denver, freshman Jamie Faus made eight saves, and even Chase Carraro from the lacrosse hotbed of Louisville, Ky., scored a goal. "For some reason, today was just our day," Tierney said, adding that he brought his team to his favorite pizza parlor for dinner on this latest Long Island trip.
Now a coach with six titles already in his pocket rides to Baltimore as his ragtag bunch from the unlikeliest places ascends to the highest level of collegiate lacrosse. True pioneers.