Item: After being totally outplayed by current No. 1 ranked Notre Dame 17-7 on April 2, and after failing to put away an overtime game against upstate rival, and unranked, Cornell last week, falling for the third time in as many OT games this season, talk percolated around the college lacrosse world that the storied Syracuse program could even miss out on post season play for the first time since 2007. Without a national championship since 2009, the potential seven year gap this season represents the longest title drought since the period between the 1993 and 2000 championship teams. As the season heads towards May, last weekend’s decisive 13-7 win over ACC rival North Carolina may just be the catalyst the now 8th ranked Orange (7-4, 2-2) needs prior to meeting Binghamton Wednesday night at the Dome (7:00 p.m. ET / TWCS-ESPN3), before a quick rematch with those same Tar Heels in the upcoming conference tournament, eyeing a top eight seed and an NCAA first round home game.
There was a decisively loud sigh of relief emanating out of the Dome last Saturday evening following the Syracuse lacrosse team’s win over Carolina, its best performance against a ranked team since the 16-7 home victory over current No. 6 Albany way back on Feb. 21, or a day after Pitt drubbed the SU basketball team by 14 points at the Dome, hardly fueling even the most diehard fan’s wish of the ‘Cuse looking anything like a hoops Final Four contender.
The same could be said of the lax team after being run off the Dome field by the Irish 17 days ago, and earlier failing to put away Johns Hopkins and Duke in road games in which they held fourth quarter, multi-goal leads, followed by the bitter OT pill in Ithaca against the longtime rival Big Red, down a tad this season in the Ivy League.
So it was certainly a relieved head coach John Desko after the Orange ended its ACC regular season by qualifying for the four team league tournament in suburban Atlanta April 29-May 1, and most importantly finding a way to win by playing through many of the same mistakes at both ends of the field that ended up costing SU in its three OT defeats.
“Between some of the faceoffs, and (Carolina’s) kid was great, playing good defense, keeping the goals down (seven vs. UNC), and our offense able to counter and put some goals up to create a bigger lead going down in the fourth quarter was key,” Desko cited after the Orange ended 2-2 in ACC play securing either the No. 2 or No. 4 seed in the tournament. “That’s something (the offensive-defensive balance) we haven’t had in those losses, and we were able to overcome that which we hadn’t done earlier (this season).”
The one position to watch closely the rest of the way in keeping scoring down is in the cage. Redshirt junior Evan Molloy is from a family rich with Syracuse Orange in its blood, he’s a third generation SU lax legacy. His grandfather Ken played in the 1940s, and 10 years later was instrumental in helping a fellow Long Island athlete named Jim Brown attend SU by organizing the payment of Brown’s first year tuition before the four sport standout was later awarded a football scholarship. His father Jamie was the goalie on the first Orangemen NCAA teams in 1979 and 1980, and both the elder Malloy’s earned All American recognition.
For Evan, the Carolina game was his third as the starter since replacing senior Warren Hill during the Notre Dame blitz, and no matter the ups and downs in a typical game, he’s starting to get into a groove with his defensive mates.
“We’re never frustrated at all, in the three games that I’ve played,” Molly said after a most satisfying defeat of UNC. “We’re never down on ourselves, we’re always ready, we feel comfortable in what we’re doing and we trust that it’s (defensive package) going to work.”
Besides non-conference games left against upstate schools Binghamton and Colgate sandwiched around the second meeting against UNC, and with another win against the Tar Heels a shot at revenge against either Notre Dame or Duke, SU’s longtime head coach has seen many teams take well into the regular season to jell for postseason’s single elimination pressure.
“I think we can play with a lot more confidence moving forward,” Desko acknowledged after seeing his team take an early lead against the Tar Heels, watch as UNC got back within a couple of goals, before putting the game away and making a statement.
“In past games (the three OT defeats) we’ve kind of sensed that it’s happened before (like) ‘Here we go again’ and now were able to get those stops, get some faceoffs to get the possession to our offense, and let the clock run.”
Sounds like that could be exactly the game plan to follow the basketball team’s blueprint to out-of-nowhere, surprising NCAA success.