March 12, 2011

Syracuse Slows Down Maryland, but No. 1 Terps Win 7-5

by Clare Lochary | | Replay of Live Blog

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - As their teammates slowly dispersed following a 7-5 loss to Maryland, Syracuse senior goalie Liz Hogan poked a finger at the darkening bruise on Alyssa Murray’s left shoulder. The freshman midfielder winced in pain and then laughed. Hogan does this a lot.

“Gotta toughen her up,” said Hogan in a faux-serious tone.

Murray seems pretty tough already. The rookie went toe to toe with Terps star Karri Ellen Johnson on the draw and was a key piece of an extreme slow-down offense that got the No. 12 Orange within striking distance of an upset versus the No. 1 Terps (7-0). Syracuse, coming off a 2010 final four run, has stumbled to a 1-3 start. But the loss to Maryland was their best game to date, and an important step for a team that starts six underclassmen, including freshman Katie Webster (2g), the Orange’s go-to shooter.

“This was a tremendous game as far as experience. Today was huge for them,” said head coach Gary Gait.

The Orange’s last outing was disastrous – a 21-11 loss to No. 7 Virginia, a game marred by the most goals allowed in program history, five yellow cards and general chaos. The Maryland game was an exercise in discipline.

A slow-down game is what almost all opponents try against the high-scoring Terps; it hardly ever works because Maryland's ride is so tough, and endless passing gets frustrating for the offense. But the Orange played with ice in their veins, rarely giving in to the temptation to make a sloppy pass or take a cheap shot. Defensively the Terps averaged 17.5 goals per game before today; Syracuse held them to just 20 shots and committed only 12 fouls.

“We wanted to make their middies play some defense so they were less explosive on the offensive end,” said Gait.

Syracuse milked possessions for five, six, seven, even eight minutes before attempting a shot. The Orange twice took a one-goal lead early in the second half on goals from senior Catherine Rodriguez (2g) and Webster, but Maryland quickly capitalized on possessions to gain a 3-2 lead at 14:44 and never looked back.

“As an attacker, I was quite frustrated. We were a little anxious but [Maryland head coach] Cathy [Reese] reiterated that we needed to stay smart,” said Johnson.

In the end, the Syracuse slow down might have worked a little too well – they dominated possession in the game’s final minutes but worked too long to find high percentage shots instead attacking the cage with more authority. Hogan (9 saves) held the Terps to a season-low goal total, but Maryland edged the Orange in most categories, winning ground balls (12-10), draw controls (8-6) and turnovers (11-9).

“Any day you have more saves than goals versus Maryland, that’s a pretty good day for a goalie,” said Gait.

Hogan, the defending IWCLA Goalie of the Year, is the emotional leader for the young Orange.

“I always look to Liz on the field,” said Webster, who leads the team with 11 goals thus far this season. “My nerves have really subsided since the season began. I was less nervous today than I was against Colgate in our opener.”

With a well-fought duel against the defending national championship to its credit, Syracuse is focused on the future rather than dwelling on missteps.

“The freshmen, they’ve barely been in the game yet, so you’ve got to pump them up,” said Hogan. “You gotta tell them what they’re doing right, not what they’re doing wrong.”

The Orange will play five more road games, including match-ups with Northwestern and Florida, before returning to the Carrier Dome to host their first conference game versus UConn on April 8.

“We’re not even into Big East play yet,” said Murray of her team’s prospects. “We’re just getting started.”

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