March 4, 2012

Top-Ranked Virginia Outguns Syracuse, 14-10

by Chris Iseman |

Virginia goalie Rob Fortunato stopped 16 shots in the Cavaliers' win over No. 3 Syracuse on Sunday.
© Kevin P. Tucker (file) 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Dom Starsia isn't quite sure why, but for whatever reason, his team wasn't playing like the undefeated Cavaliers group he knew.

The Virginia head coach watched his team allow five straight goals in the second quarter, quieting the home fans and raising immediate questions as to whether or not the defending champions were about to be taken down by new-look Syracuse.

"I thought we played like the team that was tight in the first half," Starsia said. "Maybe we simply were. We were very quiet on defense, turning the ball over too many times. Our attack struggled at times."

It might have struggled at times but, when they needed to, Virginia's scorers kicked into high gear to give the No. 1 Cavaliers a 14-10 win over the No. 3 Orange in front of 5,855 fans at Klockner Stadium.

Virginia (5-0) went on a 4-0 scoring run to start the second half, building an 8-6 lead midway through the third quarter to wrestle control of the game from the Orange. Midfielder Colin Briggs finished the game with three goals, while fellow midfielders Matt White and Rob Emery each added two.

Syracuse (2-1) went into halftime with a 6-4 lead and momentum resting largely in its hands even with a Briggs goal with 48 seconds left in the opening half. Virginia jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but since that point, its offense was mostly dormant. Despite a total of 19 first-half shots, the Cavaliers couldn't muster much offense.

That all changed coming out of halftime.

Virginia scored four straight – three in a two-minute span – to regain momentum and establish its offensive dominance.

UVa's defense also stood strong, at times using the zone scheme that helped them win last year's national title. The Cavs constantly forced the Orange to take shots from the outside. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers' offense also found its rhythm at all the right times.

"Syracuse doesn't like to slide too much, so it was more of an individual matchup," Cavaliers attackman Steele Stanwick said. "It was a hard-fought game, and the 'D' obviously stepped up and Rob Fortunato [16 saves] played great, so that always helps on our end."

Stanwick gave Virginia a 12-9 lead with a little under nine minutes to play. He ran around the left side of the net and took a hard shot from about seven yards past Syracuse goaltender Dominic Lamolinara, who replaced starter Matt Lerman (nine saves) to start the fourth quarter.

Where Virginia truly dominated the game was in faceoff situations. Cavalier faceoff specialist Ryan Benincasa finished the game 20-of-28 from the faceoff 'X.' Virginia managed to control the tempo of the game in the second half, slowing the pace down the stretch to keep the Orange from playing the run-and-gun style that appeared from both teams during much of the contest.

With such limited amount of opportunities, the Orange tried to take advantage of any chance it had, but often turned the ball over, and in the second half, twice failed to clear the ball.

"In the first quarter, we got the lead," Syracuse head coach John Desko said. "In the second half, with the lack of possession time, I thought when we did get the ball, we were a little hurried to make something happen."

For most of the contest, both teams played with a frenzied pace up and down the field.

"It's awesome. We're a run-and-gun team," said Syracuse attack Derek Maltz, who had three goals and two assists. "We've been taught to do that since we've been here. That's what we like to do, that's Syracuse lacrosse. ...And Virginia does the same thing for us. We were hoping for that."

The Orange made several comeback attempts, and was always within striking distance, never trailing by more than three goals until 1:29 left. But whenever it got close, Virginia managed to send a dagger through a possible scoring run. The Cavs went up 11-8 on Briggs' third goal after the Orange had cut the lead to two. White did the same thing with 2:47 left, putting Virginia up 13-10 after Tim Desko (three goals, one assist) pulled the Orange within two five minutes earlier.

This early in the season, there's no telling where both teams will be come NCAA tournament time. Starsia said that when all is said and done, he expects Syracuse to be right there, near the top of the upper echelon teams.

And there's certainly a chance, Stanwick said, that this won't be the final time these two teams meet.

"When you're talking about Syracuse, you always think they're going to be there around May," Stanwick said. "This is such an early game. There's a lot of lacrosse to be played."

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