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No. 7 Syracuse men’s lacrosse escapes North Carolina with a win, despite Pat March absence

Syracuse and North Carolina warm-up at Dorrance Field ahead of Saturday’s matchup.
Syracuse and North Carolina warm-up at Dorrance Field ahead of Saturday’s matchup.

Ten. That’s the amount of days No. 7 Syracuse men’s lacrosse (10-4, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) had off between its last game against Cornell and Saturday’s matchup against North Carolina (6-6, 0-2 ACC). With such a long break, rust building up was inevitable before its first game back. The Tar Heels scored the first three goals of the game while the Orange struggled to get any momentum on offense.

SU was in desperate need of a spark and it finally got one thanks to sophomore defenseman Billy Dwan who netted his fourth goal in the last four games. The tally sparked a 7-0 run for the ‘Cuse to conclude the first half, going into the break up 7-4.

Syracuse offensive coordinator, Pat March, was not on the sidelines with the team as he served a one game suspension due to an ejection March received in the last contest against Cornell. Without that guiding voice, the offense struggled to find success. However, it finally overcame a stale start and started to rely on star players like Joey Spallina and Owen Hiltz to carry the unit. Spallina recorded three assists during that run in the first half and scored at the end of the second quarter to aid in his team’s comeback efforts. The sophomore also had a strong finish to the afternoon, tacking on two more assists before the end of the contest.

“We need every single guy out there, and he's obviously a key (for) us,” Head Coach Gary Gait spoke about Spallina after the game. “He’s a key to what we're doing on the offensive end. And, you know, five points is five goals, and we need those, every single one of them. So I'm happy for him, and I know that we need every single guy to step up and have great games.”

Well, notice how Coach Gait said he needs players to have good games and not just good halves. Well that was sort of the case for the Orange. The ‘Cuse came out the break right where it left off, tallying three strikes early in the third thanks to Sam English (1) and Finn Thomson (2). But that’s when things started to fall apart at the seam.

SU midfielder Sam English (15, orange) cradles the ball while moving upfield.
SU midfielder Sam English (15, orange) cradles the ball while moving upfield.

The Orange did not score for the last 25 minutes and the Tar Heels didn’t go down without a fight. Despite being down by six, its largest deficit of the game, UNC struck twice to conclude the third and then three more times in the fourth. With less than two minutes to play, North Carolina erased a potential blowout and made it a ball game, only being down by one.

“We've still got work to do on finishing games, and we'll get better at that,” Gait mentioned. “But I also give North Carolina credit for not giving up.”

With just over a minute left, Syracuse goalkeeper Will Mark stonewalled UNC attackman Trevor Deubner who already had two goals in the meeting. The rest of the time dwindled and the Orange ended up winning their tenth game of the regular season for the first time in six years. Coach Gait talked about the impact Mark had throughout the game, but especially in the clutch.

“You know, we love when our goalies are above 50 percent,” Gait explained. “He (Mark) was certainly that today, (with) 13 saves. And, you know, a couple key ones in the end. We've been waiting for those, and he got it done today. We're so happy for him. You know, we've been in games where we've had opportunities to win, where we've been tied in overtime and things like that. And we haven't made those saves. It's a big step for us to be able to finish that one goal game and get off with a win.”

It might not have been the prettiest game out of Syracuse, but as Gait mentioned, a win is a win. The Orange have a week before their next game and they’re going to need it playing one of the best teams in the country. Syracuse welcomes No. 2 Virginia (10-1, 1-0 ACC) in its last game of the regular season on Saturday. Our coverage of the game starts with McClurg Remodeling Countdown to Faceoff at 1:30 p.m., followed by the game at 2 p.m.