May 25, 2013

Orange Squeezes Out Another One-Goal Win

by Patrick Stevens | | Live Blog Replay

Derek Maltz scored with 19.2 seconds left to give Syracuse its first lead of the game in a 9-8 win over Denver on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
© Lee Weissman

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PHILADELPHIA — John Desko's coached on Memorial Day several times in his career. He's also found himself in more than enough one-goal games this year at Syracuse.

The Orange's latest trip to the NCAA tournament final stemmed from a season-long calling card: Grinding out tight victories, sometimes in almost unfathomable fashion.

"Unfortunately, I'm almost getting used to it, but we keep coming out on the right side of it," Desko said.

Syracuse did so on Saturday in the semifinals, erasing a three-goal hole in the fourth quarter to edge Denver 9-8 before 28,444 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Derek Maltz scored with 19.2 seconds left to give the top-seeded Orange (16-3) their only lead of the game to seal their first appearance in the national championship game since 2009.

Tewaaraton finalist JoJo Marasco had two goals and three assists, becoming the first Syracuse midfielder to reach the 40-assist mark in a season. In the process, he and the rest of the Orange seniors are in position to ensure they — like every class at Syracuse since 2000 — leaves with at least one title in their careers.

"I went to Syracuse because they played in the final four so many times, and we have 11 national championships," Marasco said. "That's why you go to play there."

For their part, the fourth-seeded Pioneers (14-5) were appearing in only their 11th all-time NCAA tournament game. But they had the better of play for most of the afternoon and early evening, maintaining an 8-6 lead entering the final three minutes.

It wasn't much different than what Syracuse faced less than a week earlier in the quarterfinals. The Orange scored three goals in the final 3:04 to grind out a one-goal defeat of a feisty Yale bunch.

This time, the flurry occurred in the last 2:35. This time, the Orange scored twice in the final minute. This time, Syracuse punctured Denver's dream of making its first trip to the final.

"We felt like we had them," Pioneers coach Bill Tierney said. "We felt like we played well enough to win. A couple of bad breaks at the end, but good teams make bad breaks."

For so much of the game, it appeared Tierney would find himself back in a familiar spot after an absence from Memorial Day of more than a decade. Just four years after leaving Princeton for a western outpost, one of lacrosse's lions was positioned to be just a game away from his seventh national title.

He may yet get that chance — "Nobody expected us to be what we were this year and probably won't expect us to be what we'll be next year," Tierney said. "But we'll be back" — and history suggests it is never wise to discount Tierney.

Yet there's also temptation to wonder if the Pioneers might have stuck with goalie Ryan LaPlante in the second half.

LaPlante made a season-high 13 saves before the break, but was part of a rotation with goalie Jamie Faus that started in early March. Still, Tierney's experience through 22 NCAA tournaments has reinforced the dangers of reinventing a team in the postseason. Faus got the call after the break.

"This is what we've done," Tierney said. "A week ago, people were asking me why Ryan was in for so long — all of 10 minutes. You have two great young men and two guys who are fantastic goalies. None of those goals were Jamie's fault. ... Jamie's the guy who's in and who's done a great job all year. Instead of blaming a 21-year-old kid, you look to Syracuse and say 'That was a heck of an effort.'"

Still, even the Orange were mildly surprised to see a new player in the cage after the break.

"To be honest I was shocked when they made a goalie switch, but they've been doing it all year and we prepared for that all week," Maltz said. "When that goalie was making all those saves, the coaches just kept telling us to keep shooting. I think that's the only thing that you can do."

It was the only way for the Orange to tighten things. There doesn't seem to be such a thing as too close for comfort for Syracuse, which played in its 10th one-goal game of the season.

The Orange have won seven of them, including twice in the postseason.

"We really don't enjoy these one‑goal games," Marasco said.

Yet they thrive in them. There's no way to really tell how they do, or why. But the net result is a ticket to a place on the calendar that has long defined Syracuse lacrosse and might again on Monday: Memorial Day.

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