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Denver's Alec Stathakis.

Denver Snaps 5-Game Skid Against Georgetown, Emerges as Big East Favorite

April 13, 2024
Matt Meyer
John Strohsacker

At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Richie Connell might look more at home on a football field or basketball court. But Saturday at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, the mammoth attackman helped Denver dispatch a Big East juggernaut.

Connell scored back-to-back unassisted goals for the Pioneers — two of the three he netted Saturday afternoon — to spark a 4-0 run in the fourth quarter that pushed his team past Georgetown 10-8.

In a game in which the No. 5 Hoyas repeatedly showcased their skill and athleticism, the five-time reigning Big East champions, for mere seconds at a time, didn’t have an answer for the brute strength on display from Connell. He’d wheel around the top of the offense, shouldering his way into a brief moment space 10-to-15 yards from the cage. That was all the window the graduate student needed to whip in long shots for the No. 9 Pioneers. Half of Connell’s 10 goals this season have come in April, split between the victory against Georgetown and an 18-8 win against St. John’s last week.

“That’s the Richie we see every single day,” Denver coach Matt Brown said. “We’ve been waiting for him to showcase that on game days. Proud of him; of how he shot the ball, obviously, and he scored some big-time goals. But he dodged really hard, was really in control, limited his turnovers. Most importantly, he ran the offense — well and properly. I hope this boosts him and he sees that he can play with anyone. He’s a tough matchup, a tough player and he’s set that standard a little bit higher. We’re going to need that moving forward.”

Georgetown came to Denver riding an eight-game winning streak. For much of the first three quarters, and especially in the opening frame, the Hoyas controlled proceedings.

Georgetown held solid advantages throughout the first quarter in ground balls (11-5), faceoffs (4-2) and shots (12-8), plus scored during the only man-up situation of the first half. The Hoyas used an aggressive style in an attempt to put away one of their primary challengers for the conference title in 2024.

Instead, the Pioneers emerged victorious after having lost the five previous matchups between the teams. The first lead Denver secured in the game came on a goal from Josh Carlson, who followed up on Connell’s markers with 4:37 to go. Jake Edinger added an insurance tally in the final two minutes.

“They’ve been the king of the Big East,” Brown said of Georgetown. “They’ve been sitting on the throne here for a while, and we know our conference goes through them. They’re well-coached. They’ve got a great coaching staff and some of the best players in the country. I just thought our guys were really resilient, and their fight never stopped. What a great battle, and I’m proud of the effort.”

Before Denver’s late rally, Georgetown appeared to be in control, including three of the game’s first four goals, netted by Patrick Crogan, Kade Goldberg and Alexander Vardaro. Denver’s Michael Lampart made it 3-2 on a highlight-reel goal, cutting back on an over-run defenseman and diving toward the crease before burying a shot in the left side of the net.

As the wind picked up early in the second quarter, Connell tied it at 3 on a rip at least 15 yards away, but Jordan Wray responded for the Hoyas less than 90 seconds later by tiptoeing around the crease. Then Chase Llewellyn added another close-range strike to return Georgetown to a multi-goal lead.

After more than seven minutes of relative quiet, Edinger fired a quick flick from the left side to bring Denver within one goal, but Will Tominovich responded with 1:34 left in the half to maintain the Hoyas’ advantage heading into the break.

AJ Merucio put Denver on the board first in the second half. However, he followed that with a one-minute, non-releasable penalty for a hit to the head. The Pioneers killed the penalty, but the Hoyas tickled twine less than a minute later on a laser from Aidan Carroll.

Denver’s Joshua Carlson and Georgetown’s TJ Haley kept the back-and-forth dance going, putting the Hoyas at an 8-6 advantage to end the third quarter and setting up Denver’s surge in the fourth.

Although the Pioneers’ offense was on full display in the final frame, Connell was quick to shift focus to the defensive groups and faceoff specialist, saying they were the keys to the victory.

“We have to credit every ounce of our success there to our defense and Alec Stathakis [the faceoff specialist],” Connell said. “Our rope unit killed it, and it all came together. It was awesome.”

While Georgetown will look to rebound against St. John’s on April 20, Denver will once again head to the East Coast and face Providence on the same day. The Pioneers are the last team undefeated in Big East play, but Brown said the Friars present a tough challenge.

“You don’t think about anything besides Providence,” Brown said. “We’re going to go into the locker room, and we’re going to talk about recovery, we’re going to talk about making sure they’re taking care of their bodies. We’ve been on the road a lot. We’re used to being on the road. But Providence is not easy to get to. It’s probably one of the hardest places to get to in the country, and they’re a very good team. We’ll need to be ready.”