The kids grew up. No. 12 Syracuse’s dramatic 15-14 win over No. 14 North Carolina on a neutral site Saturday showed as much. Freshman Michael Leo sealed it with a game winning goal with just 12 seconds to play. That was his second score of the game. Fellow freshman Finn Thomson (1 goal) and Joey Spallina (2 goals and 2 assists) also contributed, giving SU first years 7 total points on the day.
This is one was a long time coming. In February, Syracuse lost to Maryland in a game it hung around in on the road, it lost to Duke in overtime, and fell to Johns Hopkins by two, but had the ball with less than a minute left and a chance to tie the game.
On all three of those occasions, SU, and its top ranked freshman class, had a chance to beat teams that were more experienced. In the cases of Maryland and Duke, those squads were also more talented.
That shows growth, and so does the difference between Saturday and Syracuse’s first matchup against North Carolina. The Tar Heels beat the Orange 19-13 in the Dome in February. In that matchup, UNC ran up and down the field against SU without much resistance. After the second matchup, Gary Gait, Spallina and Leo all said this Orange team is a completely different one than the Tar Heels saw two months ago, and they’re right.
So, what comes next? The Orange are 8-5 and have guaranteed themselves a winning record, which means they’re eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Whether they make it or not will probably be determined by their final two games.
Syracuse travels to Charlottesville to take on No. 4 Virginia this Saturday, and has a rematch with No. 2 Duke next Saturday in Durham. If Gait and company win both games, there is seemingly no way the committee could keep them out, although the same was said about Notre Dame who surged at the end of last year and was on the outside looking in on selection Sunday.
Even if the Orange only take one of their final two, it’s hard to argue that they’re not good enough to deserve a bid, especially with a top-5 win added to their resume.
If you’re a Syracuse lacrosse fan, enjoy this. After the worst season in program history last year, SU has turned it around in the blink of an eye. That being said, you never want to waste an opportunity, no matter what a team’s perceived time frame is. So, these next two games are about as big as they get, which should be a breathe of fresh air for a fan base that has seen too much losing in recent years.