Narrow margins, solid defense have Syracuse lacrosse off to good start

Syracuse has played nothing but one-goal games recently
Syracuse has played nothing but one-goal games recently

The Syracuse men’s lacrosse team has been skating by on the slimmest of margins halfway through the 2017 season.

The No. 5-ranked Orange (5-1, 1-0 ACC) have played five straight one-goal games, winning four of them. The trend is both encouraging and concerning.

On one hand, the team has proven it can win tight contests, which will surely come in handy if it makes the NCAA tournament. Syracuse also has shown an ability to rally, coming back from one goal down in the fourth quarter against Albany, five goals down in the third against Virginia, and one goal down in the fourth to Johns Hopkins.

The team’s one loss, to Army, came when All America faceoff specialist Ben Williams was ruled out with an injury. In that game, Army won 17 draws to Syracuse’s 13. The Black Knights also outpaced the Orange in ground balls (31-24) and shots (47-31).

On the other hand, the only team the Orange beat handily was Siena, 19-6, in the first game of the season. Siena is now 0-8. It’s just as easy to envision Syracuse sitting at 1-5 if a few plays went the other way in each of the one-goal wins.

» Related: For Syracuse, another one-goal win against Johns Hopkins comes as no surprise

The offense may be partly to blame. Coming into the season, we knew the Orange would struggle to replace two graduated seniors on attack and their combined 104 points. We also expected No. 22 Jordan Evans to lead the attack and fulfill the role of a star player.

Through six games, the offense has been good but not great. Nick Mariano leads the team in points with 22 (12 goals, 10 assists). Brendan Bomberry leads the team in goals with 13; he also has four assists. Yet no Orange player ranks in the top 25 in the country in points or goals. Midfielder Sergio Salcido, an Inside Lacrosse Preseason All America, has recorded 14 assists, or 2.3 per game, good enough for 23rd in the country.

Meanwhile, Evans only has 16 points (7 g, 9 a), eight of which came against Siena. He’s averaging just three shots per game and hasn’t been counted on in the clutch. Mariano, Salcido and Bomberry, have notched the game-winning goals against Albany, Virginia, and Johns Hopkins, respectively.

Syracuse’s defense has been much better than expected, especially after Nick Mellen, the only returning starter and a Preseason All America, was ruled out for the year. Coach John Desko was forced to turn to Scott Firman, a longstick midfield convert, and two relatively unknown underclassmen Marcus Cunningham and Tyson Bomberry.

The defensive unit ranks 25th in the country in goals allowed per game (9.5) and 33rd in man-up defense. The team has allowed double digit goals in just two games and has shut down some of the best offensive players in the country, including Shack Stanwick at Johns Hopkins and Connor Fields at Albany.

Then there’s goalie Evan Molloy, who recently collected a second ACC Defensive Player of the Week honor and a USILA National Defensive Player of the Week. Molloy helped hold Johns Hopkins to a season low seven goals while making seven saves, collecting three ground balls, causing one turnover, and recording one assist. On one series in the fourth quarter against the Blue Jays, Molloy saved a shot that would’ve tied the score and provided a long outlet pass that led to an Orange goal.

Challenges await for Molloy and the Syracuse defense on Saturday against Duke, then Notre Dame on April 1 and North Carolina on April 15. Each team has a high-powered offense. Hopefully, the Orange defense can hold them in check and the team can win by more than one goal.

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About Dan Brannigan 71 Articles
Dan is currently the editor of Common Ground magazine for Community Associations Institute (CAI) where he has won an Association Media & Publishing award for newswriting. Dan has also won a New England Press Association award while working for the The Inquirer and Mirror in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he grew up. Dan is a 2005 Syracuse University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @djbranni.