Orange Watch: Faceoff play key to Syracuse lacrosse surging to No. 1 ranking

Ben Williams is once again the key to SU's NCAA run
Referred to as “Cardiac ‘Cuse” this season and with good reason, all four ACC victories have come by one goal margins

Item: With an unprecedented seven wins this season by a one goal margin, and sporting an overall 7-1 record in those eight tight-to-the-finish contests, the Syracuse lacrosse team sits atop a somewhat tumultuous Div. I lax landscape. SU is just the second team to hold the top ranking for consecutive weeks this season, and a huge key to the 10-1, 4-0 (ACC) record is winning faceoffs and the subsequent possession to run its patient, yet lethal offense.

In the parity-filled world of college lacrosse the margin is often so slim between altering a team’s record, and after this past Saturday’s latest crazy finish against North Carolina in which the Orange came back again from a multi-goal deficit to tie late in regulation and win for the third time this season in OT, would it really be surprising if in the upcoming ACC Tournament the roles were reversed?

After all in the four ACC victories the total SU margin of victory has been the minimum four goals, and with Duke hosting the tournament this year in the first year of a format in which each league team plays host to the event over the next five seasons, it really wouldn’t be shocking if, for example, the Blue Devils edged the Orange by a goal if they met in a rematch from the 12-11 OT win by the ‘Cuse in the Dome on March 25.

You need the ball to score, and to win possession it comes down to the all important faceoff. That’s where the Orange has had the luxury of one of the best in the sport in senior Ben Williams. It’s no coincidence that in the only loss this season to Army Williams was hurt.

» Related: Syracuse lacrosse ‘the team to beat’ right now

After winning most of the key draws down the stretch against UNC, nine out of the last 11 to be exact to give SU enough possessions to claw back, Williams was named ACC defensive player of the week.

“We feel good. Obviously, that was a familiar situation for us in the fourth quarter (and) overtime kind of game,” Williams said after the emotional win over the Tar Heels. “(It was) a relentless effort for all 60 minutes. We keep going at them, we never back down, so I think there’s something to be said about that in these close games.”

Never a team to rest on its laurels, the Orange has prided itself on hard work during practice to improve as the season’s progressed, and one of the biggest reasons has been senior middie sniper Sergio Salcido, now just two points (42-40) behind fellow middie Nick Mariano in leading the SU offense. While Salcido scored the game winner versus UNC with a bullet shot from the left side of the net, he’s also cognizant that as the offense continues to find balance, SU will be hard to stop.

“The coaching staff and I, and Nick Mariano and I, had talked a lot coming down the stretch here, the ever even-keeled Salcido said after the UNC win.

“You know, it’s easy to stop two guys, we say, but if you’ve got to stop six to 10 guys it’s going to be a problem, Salcido continued. “I think that’s we’ve been pushing. We’ve really been getting on the other guys in practice to build up their confidence and make sure they’re getting the touches (and) it translates to games like this (UNC) where you’ve got guys like Stephen Rehfuss who are getting to the net and making plays all over the field. That’s what we want in the playoffs, going into the postseason.”

First things first, it’s a pre-ACC Tournament test against improving Binghamton on Saturday (2:00 p.m. ET / Spectrum Sports-ACCExtra), the regular season Dome finale, and Williams is already preparing for his next chance to shine at the midfield “X.”

“We’re undefeated in the ACC which is pretty cool, but we got Binghamton on Saturday so I think we’ve got to focus back up to that (opponent).”

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.