At 3:59 pm Saturday afternoon, few things were going right for Syracuse lacrosse. SU had lost two straight, marred it’s perfect all-time Big East record, and fallen to Duke on the big stage. Even The Fizz was less than optimistic about Syracuse’s tournament chances when we discussed it in this week’s FizzCast.
Over the course of the two hours that followed, much of that would change as SU banded together to beat Princeton 10-9 in a furious final five minutes. SU attacker Tommy Palasek summed it up well after the game.
“I’ll tell you what, it feels so much better to win than it does to lose, that’s for sure.”
“PalaSensation” had his second straight 5-point performance and third game in a row with at least 4 points. The striker had 4 goals and an assist against the Tigers, and scored the go-ahead goal with 4:11 to go in the 4th quarter.
This was a game that SU had to win to have any hope of being considered a contender. SU has fallen from elite status, but this group of young players was not about to let the program slip any farther. A gutsy decision by John Desko showed his riverboat gambler side, and proved how desperate SU was for a spark.
Just before the game it was announced freshman Bobby Wardwell would be starting in net. The Orange had split time between two veterans all season long. The ninth game of the season, against a great team like Princeton, in the face of a two-game skid is not usually where goalies see their first starts. But Wardwell was the No. 2 high school goalie prospect in the country, and many believed he’d be the next great SU netminder. Desko’s choice to start him in a must-win game was ballsy, and the coach recognized that.
“We thought we had a pretty good read on Dom [Lamolinara] and Matt [Lerman], and we thought we knew what we would get out of them if they were in the game. We thought if we were going to try Bob [Wardwell], this was the time to do it, this far along in the season. Risky, because we were coming off a couple of losses and Princeton is a very good lacrosse team.”
Wardwell was up against some terrific Tiger shooters, and a team that had won 4 straight and sported a 6-2 record. It took him the first half to get accustomed to the speed of the college game, but even through two quarters, he only allowed 5 goals. Coach Desko was impressed.
“I think he showed his competitiveness today. They flung a few in early, hit a couple of pipes early and some goalies would really not get better as the game went on. But he did get better as the game went on. He’s very comfortable, and I think he showed his mental toughness today and gave us an idea of what to expect in the future from them.”
Perhaps the most convincing case Syracuse had gotten its heart back was the last play of the game with the outcome all but decided. With :17 left, SU regained possession and just needed to wait the game out.
JoJo Marasco worked the ball out of his defensive zone, and faced a tight Princeton press. As Marasco moved up the sideline and the clock wound down, the defender put a dirty hit on him in front of both teams’ benches.
Marasco went down hard, and his teammates abruptly engaged in a heated discussion about the helmet-to-helmet with the Princeton bench.
Syracuse kept its composure, letting the final seconds drip off. SU helped Marasco up just in time to rush the field and celebrate a much-needed win. Palasek talked about what it meant to be ready to fight for a teammate.
“Whether it’s in the beginning of the game or the end of the game, or anywhere. If one of our guys is in trouble, we’re going to be there to help them out. We just needed to hold on, help him out, make sure nobody got hurt, and get the win.”
Whether it’s rallying behind a freshman goalie, Palasek’s 4-goal show, or a young team standing up for one of its own, this gives Orange Nation hope. The team is treating this stretch as do-or-die, says Brian Megill – whose defense caused 12 turnovers.
“Now, we’re playing like every game is a National Championship game for us. We’re giving it everything we’ve got – head, heart, and hustle for 60 minutes.”
SU is back over .500 and re-upped its swagger. It stopped the losing skid and defeated a highly-skilled Princeton team that outranked it by 7 spots. Now, the real challenge begins. SU takes the drive down to Ithaca to face #5 Cornell tomorrow. No time to rest for the Orange, in a game that will determine whether this was a true turning point. Desko says it’s all business from here on out.
“We’ll enjoy this for about 10 minutes. Then we’ll be watching some more film to come out and prepare for the Big Red on Tuesday.”
Posted: Jake Moskowitz