SU vies for its 12th national championship after comeback victory over Denver

With under three minutes in the game an a two-score deficit, the Orange scored three unanswered goals to defeat Denver, 9-8.

PHILADELPHIA - With a two-man advantage, down two goals with just three minutes left, the struggling Syracuse offense had its chance to make a late surge.

It did just that.

"We played so hard, and the talent is justit rises everytime in close games," senior midfielder JoJo Marasco said, "especially when it comes down to the last four teams in the Final Four."

Photo: Stefanie Campolo
Syracuse's Jojo Marasco, 22, passes Denver's Sean Cannizzaro, 44, as he advances toward the goal and assists a goal by Luke Cometti, 53, tying the game 8-8 late in the fourth quarter.

Number one-seeded Syracuse scored with two and a half minutes left and momentum soon followed. With 59 seconds remaining, the Orange knotted the score and with just 17 ticks left, attackman Derek Maltz notched a rebound game-winner, as Syracuse (16-3) defeated sixth-seeded Denver (14-4) , 9-8. The goal capped a comeback and concluded a 5-1 run in the final quarter.

With the comeback victory, Syracuse advanced to its 12th national championship game to face seventh-seeded Duke (15-5).

The win was the seventh one-goal victory of the season for an experienced Syracuse squad that has played with ice in its veins in tender moments. In one-goal games this season, Syracuse is now 7-3. Of the Orange’s 19 games, 10 have been decided by a single goal.

“We have a lot of faith and we believe in ourselves and I think that’s why we’ve been able to come out on top in so many close games,” said Marasco. “We don’t really enjoy these one goal games,” he added, laughingly.

Despite outshooting Denver 40-24, Syracuse struggled to finish around the cage. Even with a statistical advantage in every category, SU was down 7-4. But the two-man advantage in the final quarter kick-started an Orange offense that needed a push.

As the offense sputtered over the first 45 minutes, the defense stepped up to keep the Denver lead minimal.

“Syracuse defense did a great job of getting us out of our comfort zone,” Denver senior Eric Law said.

Syracuse goalkeeper Dominic Lamolinara had confidence his team would eventually step up to reap the benefits of the strong defense. “I knew the offense was going to make their plays,” he said, “so I just needed to limit the defensive opportunities, and that's what happened, and it worked out.”

The Orange relied on a patient offense as a means to limiting Denver possessions in the second half. Denver head coach Bill Tierney said the tough Syracuse defense took his squad out of their game. In the final minutes, the patience was rewarded.

After Syracuse tied the score, Denver won the following faceoff, gaining possession at a momentous time. But injured Syracuse defender, Steve Ianzito, who didn’t practice this week, made the biggest defensive play of the game. Ianzito forced a turnover, giving the Orange a chance to take its first lead of the game with under a minute left. Following a final timeout, Maltz hit the game-winner off a second chance rebound. “The ball trickled off the goalies chest and I was basically just in the right spot at the right time,” he said.

The Pioneers responded with a late attempt at goal, which was snuffed before a shot could be taken in the final seconds. The Syracuse players stormed the field, rejoicing in the comeback, the one-goal victory. During a time where most teams get frenzied and tight, this Syracuse team has found comfort.

“It's just a great feeling right now, and right now, it's just we're going with it and then tomorrow we've got to wake up and prepare for Duke,” Marasco said.

The championship game will be played Monday, May 27, at 1 p.m. in Philadelphia. Reaching the point was a goal for the Syracuse squad, as the program looks to win its 12th national championship.

Said Marasco: “It’s been a goal since I first picked up a lacrosse stick.” 

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