By beating the No. 4 Pioneers (14-5), the Orange advanced to the NCAA title game for the 17th time. It will face No. 7 Duke, which defeated Cornell, 16-14, in the first semifinal.
Denver led 5-2 at halftime when it was faced with a decision. All season, the Pioneers had played sophomore goalie Ryan LaPlante for one half and junior Jamie Faus for the other.
In the first half Saturday, LaPlante had 13 saves and the Orange was 2 for 23 shooting. Yet Coach Bill Tierney kept the rotation and used Faus in the second half. In their first seven shots against Faus, the Orange had two goals and also hit the post. After struggling against LaPointe, the Orange shot 7 for 17 against Faus.
“They’re two great young men and two guys who are fantastic goalies,” Tierney said. “None of those goals was Jamie’s fault.. . . Instead of blaming a 21-year-old kid, look at Syracuse. That was a heck of an effort.”
The Orange scored the game’s final three goals, all in the last 2 minutes 35 seconds. Senior JoJo Marasco scored one goal and assisted on the second. The Orange had possession again the final seconds when senior Luke Cometti took a close shot that Faus saved. But the ball bounced away from him, away from a defender and right to Maltz. He buried the shot for the winner.
“Luke took the ball hard to the cage,” Maltz said. “The ball trickled off the goalie’s chest and I was in the right place at the right time.”
Maltz finished with two goals and sophomore Sean Young held Denver leading goal scorer Wesley Berg, a sophomore, without a shot. Berg entered with 14 goals in the tournament.
In the first semifinal, Cornell senior Rob Pannell became the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer. But it was hardly a celebratory moment for him and the Big Red (14-4), which fell short in its attempt for a first NCAA title since 1977.
Pannell finished with five goals and two assists against the Blue Devils (15-5) to give him 254 career points. But his running mate on attack, senior Steve Mock, endured a long afternoon. Mock entered leading the nation with 59 goals but was held to 1-for-6 shooting by senior Billy Conners. Conners also scored a goal, in transition.
“The record is what it is,” Pannell said. “I’d give up everything I’ve achieved individually to get a chance to play on Monday.”
Duke led 14-6 following a goal by senior Greg DeLuca with 2:22 left in the third quarter. The goal culminated a 9-0 run; included in the spurt was a stretch where Duke went 5-for-5 shooting.
Unseeded Cornell’s offense had been the model of efficiency in the first two playoff games. It made 16 of 31 shots against Maryland and 16 of 33 against Ohio State. Through three-plus quarters on Saturday, the Big Red had gone 7 for 35.
Trailing 14-7 early in the fourth quarter, Cornell finally caught fire and closed to 15-13 with possession in the final two minutes but turned it over.