BALTIMORE - It's not that Duke's high-powered offense is simply a plug-and-play unit. Some parts surely are more important than others. But when Kyle Keenan stepped in for one of the nation's top finishers, Josh Dionne, and scored four goals Saturday in his first game this season on attack, it was considered a bit of a surprise.
Well maybe to Denver, the team victimized in the Division I men's lacrosse semifinal, but certainly not to Duke.
"None of us were surprised," Blue Devils coach John Danowski said of the performance by Keenan, the former Smithtown West star who shuttled between midfield and attack in college after being exclusively an attack in high school. "The game comes to lefties. If you're opportunistic and you've got skills, there are opportunities to make plays."
Keenan made the most of those, scoring four goals on four shots as top-seeded Duke knocked off Denver, 15-12, and advanced to Monday's national title game against No. 6 Notre Dame at 1 p.m. at M & T Bank Stadium. The Irish turned back Maryland, 11-6, with Matt Kavanagh (Chaminade) scoring five goals.
"I've been an attack all my life. I'm comfortable there," said Keenan, who has 23 goals this season after totaling eight in his first two seasons. "I worked with Jordan [Wolf], Case [Matheis] and Josh all week on my spacing and just being in the right place at the right time."
With Dionne (49 goals) done for the season after suffering a knee injury in a quarterfinal, Keenan will be back on the first line with Wolf and Matheis Monday as Duke tries to make it back-to-back national titles and Notre Dame tries to win its first.
Keenan's teammates believe it's a nice fit."
"No one is going to replace Josh. He's an unbelievable player," Wolf said, "but we just encouraged Kyle to be himself. He's a natural quarterback type and brings a lot of calmness to our attack."
Myles Jones, Duke's high-scoring midfielder who played against Keenan in high school while at Whitman, said Keenan moving from second midfield to first attack "was a natural for us. It's very hard to put a short stick on him. He's a great dodger and a great feeder."
Since Dionne was a pure sniper with only seven assists, Keenan does bring another dimension to Duke's attack. "He changes the way the defense has to play us," Jones said. "He just looks like he's been there all season. That's awesome."
Perhaps Keenan will return to attack full time next season because Wolf is graduating, or perhaps he'll continue to shuttle.
"He struggled with his confidence his first two years, but this year that hasn't been an issue," Danowski said. "He has tremendous confidence. An offensive player is an offensive player is an offensive player. That doesn't change."