Men's Lacrosse

Magic runs out for No. 2 Syracuse in 10-7, season-ending loss to No. 11 Towson

Sabrina Koenig | Asst. Photo Editor

The Orange had only felt the sting of defeat twice this season. An uncharacteristically sloppy first quarter put Towson up 6-0 and doomed the Orange, which scored its fewest goals in a game this season.

NEWARK, Del. — The orange-and-white jerseys formed a somber procession, briskly walking onto the field at Delaware Stadium to console their teammates who sat or stood stunned on the turf. Players took turns embracing Jordan Evans, Nick Mariano and Sergio Salcido, the team’s three best offensive weapons and all seniors. A group of five players huddled around junior long-stick midfielder Austin Fusco crouched with his head down. Midfielders Joe Gillis and Andrew Helmer pulled him to his feet. The team walked off together toward a difficult understanding.

The 10-7, season-ending defeat for No. 2 Syracuse (13-3, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) to No. 11 Towson (12-4, 4-1 Colonial Athletic) in Newark, Delaware, hadn’t seemed real until the buzzer sounded. It hadn’t seemed possible for this Syracuse team. Not the longest-tenured No. 1-ranked team in the nation that always found different late-game heroes. Not the one that completed comebacks from down at least four goals four times this season. Not until Sunday afternoon, when the magic ran out.

“My hats off to Towson,” SU head coach John Desko said. “They put up six goals (in the first quarter) and we found ourselves playing catch-up. They had those long, long possessions, and we had to watch that clock run down.”

An uncharacteristically sloppy first quarter put Towson up 6-0 and doomed the Orange, which scored its fewest goals in a game this season. The Tigers, with the worst offense in the NCAA tournament by goals per game (9.47) and shooting percentage (25.4), patiently picked apart the defense for more than half of its season average in SU’s nightmarish first frame.

TU won the first faceoff of the game and scored following a roughly two-and-a-half-minute set. Then a Gillis offside penalty put Towson on the man-up. The Tigers converted, and did so again after wing Luke Schwasnick rushed in eight seconds later and crushed Towson faceoff specialist Alex Woodall with a cross-check in a groundball scrum.

“In the locker room,” Desko said, “our team was really fired up. When you’re that emotional, you’re going to come out and play physical, play hard. … (The penalties) had a lot to do with how emotional we were coming out, almost to a fault.”

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Sabrina Koenig | Asst. Photo Editor

The Orange seemed poised to stop the 3-0 run when senior Ben Williams won the ensuing faceoff, but Evans lost the ball cutting to the middle. As the Tigers tried to clear, three Orange jerseys pursued Tyler Mayes to the sideline and a shoving mass of black and white jerseys erupted with Salcido and Evans near the epicenter. The penalties for pushing (Evans, one minute) and slashing (Salcido, 30 seconds) gave Towson its third extra man in four possessions. Senior attack Joe Seider bounced a shot past SU goalie Evan Molloy, his second of four goals on the afternoon.

Syracuse had turned into a pumpkin before reaching the sport’s biggest stage — again.

It is the latest in a string of disappointing season endings for Syracuse’s senior class, which lost to Maryland in the quarterfinals in 2016, to Johns Hopkins in the same round one year earlier and to Bryant in the first round in 2014. It is also the final blow. With the loss, the SU seniors become the first class to never reach a Final Four in their careers since 1979, when Desko was a senior defenseman.

“(The seniors) were the core of this team,” said close defender Scott Firman, a fellow senior. “Beyond what you see, it’s how hard they worked. … That’s how I think we’ll be remembered.”

Evans, Mariano and Salcido were not made available at the postgame press conference.

After the first quarter, Desko, who usually stands calmly with his arms folded on the sidelines in even the tightest games, waved his arms animatedly and became red in the face. As Towson’s possessions drained the clock, he tried everything he could.

Long-stick midfielder Andrew Helmer, one of the team’s best athletes and most used when SU needs a turnover, picked up a short stick and replaced Gillis. Redshirt freshman attack Stephen Rehfuss stepped in to direct the offense from the X. The Orange never chipped away enough.

The two teams scored two apiece in the second and one each in the third. After sophomore attack Nate Solomon scored with 6:23 to go in the third frame, making it 8-3, a Syracuse fan stood up and screamed, “We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em. This is what we do.”

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Sabrina Koenig | Asst. Photo Editor

All season, with each comeback more improbable than the last, ever increasing the sense of invincibility, that had been true. But not on Sunday.

The difference in all of the other comebacks Syracuse had this season, Solomon said, was the Orange got the ball back almost every time. Sunday, Williams couldn’t consistently beat Woodall. They split the faceoffs with 10 each.

Woodall dampened SU’s hopes when it seemed to ignite a trademark run by scoring twice in 12 seconds. But SU caused a turnover and, with 6:44 to go, SU senior midfielder Paolo Ciferri jumpstarted transition. The Orange cycled the ball to sophomore defender Tyson Bomberry to midfielder Brendan Bomberry then to Solomon, who unleashed a bullet on Towson goalie Matt Hoy. The shot glanced off Hoy’s stick and fell softly just over the crossbar. To the Syracuse sideline, though, it appeared to score and pull the Orange within three. White jerseys raised their sticks and hopes.

Hoy scooped up the ball and ran. Evans tried to chase him down and seemingly had the goalie lined up with a tomahawk to jar the ball loose. But his stick whooshed through the air without making contact. Towson slipped away.

“No, not at all,” Desko said when asked if this season had been a disappointment. “Lacrosse has changed so much over the years. When you make it this far, these teams we’ve played are Final Four games. … Especially looking at our year. And for our record, with the way we came out on top for all those one-goal games and winning last week … I’m disappointed, but I’m happy (with the season).”

Moments after Evans’ last effort, with time winding down on an insurmountable lead, with everyone in attendance knowing the same undeniable facts, Desko looked calm again. He folded his arms and watched as Syracuse’s season, for all its miracles, ended.

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