Villanova, Pa. – It’s a good thing they packed the white home uniforms in the Syracuse lacrosse equipment truck that was parked outside of Villanova Stadium late Thursday night.
An hour earlier, the third-seeded Orange displayed their best 60 minute performance of the season. SU avenged a stunning, regular season defeat to second-seed, and host, Villanova in the Big East Championship semi-finals, 15-6.
It set up a meeting with fourth-seed St. John’s, an 8-7 upset winner over top-seed Notre Dame in the day’s first semi-final. The Orange (8-7), now the highest remaining seed, will unexpectedly wear white for Saturday’s championship game.
And with it comes the Big East’s automatic bid to the 16-team NCAA Tournament. It’s something that the Cuse would miss for only the second time since 1982 if it had lost in this inaugural edition of the conference tournament. It also would have put a sour finish to what was as inconsistent a season for the program since 2007, the only other NCAA miss in 30 years.
“We talked yesterday (Wednesday) about this not being our last practice,” senior midfielder Bobby Eilers said after a career-high four goals, including the first two of the game that set the Orange on its offensive course. “I took that (not losing) to heart, the whole team took that to heart. We know we have to win out from here. We don’t want to be the team that doesn’t make the (NCAA).”
There was certainly a feeling of now or never when the second half got underway against the Wildcats. Up by two, the Orange turned up its play winning just over half of the 25 face-offs.
But most importantly SU usually maintained possession after scoring a goal, and the hustle on ground balls almost doubled the Wildcats total of 21. It clearly separated the two teams down the stretch.
“We played with a sense of urgency today, but we played smarter,” head coach John Desko said with relief etched on his face, satisfied with his team’s complete game performance and contributions from second-line players. “Now I’d like to see that continue. The guys saw St. John’s (upset Notre Dame), they know they’re a tough group.”
Indeed, the regular season meeting with the Red Storm (8-6) in March in Queens was tied with just over a minute left until Tim Desko’s late goal gave SU a 9-8 win.
Another win over St. John’s will turn this once disappointing season into an opportunity to thrive where Syracuse lacrosse expects to thrive, the NCAA Tournament.