Ziniu Chen | Staff PhotographerMen's soccer
Syracuse clinches Big East tournament berth with victory over DePaul on senior night
Ian McIntyre vigorously scribbled away on his notepad as his wife and daughter stood nearby. Louisville, Syracuse, St. John’s and Villanova were written in four rows and four columns as the SU head coach went through all the possible scenarios in his head.
If South Florida beat St. John’s, Syracuse would secure the No. 2 spot in the Big East Red division, ensuring a home game in the conference tournament.
McIntyre’s wife repeatedly refreshed her smartphone as the remaining time dwindled in the USF-SJU matchup. She then told her husband the Bulls held on for a one-goal win, eliciting a massive smile from the coach, who relayed the news to his players just 10 minutes after their victory over DePaul on Saturday night.
“It makes me smile,” said senior Ted Cribley, who also pointed to the sky in celebration. “When we were ranked at the bottom of the Big East, and rightfully so, we knew we weren’t going to be at the bottom.
“It’s a great feeling to just smile and look at that leaderboard and say that we’ve turned some heads.”
Even before the St. John’s loss, Syracuse (12-4, 5-2 Big East) knew it could control its own destiny on Saturday night with a win against DePaul (3-10-3, 0-6-1). That’s exactly what the Orange did, knocking off the Blue Demons 2-0 in front of 1,450 on senior night at SU Soccer Stadium to clinch a second-place finish in the division.
The victory also marked the most wins for the program since 1988. And it ensured SU a berth in the conference tournament for the first time since 2005 when it lost to Notre Dame in the first round.
A pair of freshmen in Tyler Hilliard and Jordan Vale fueled the landmark win on senior night.
Hilliard, a redshirt freshman, kicked off the scoring for SU with a goal in the 16th minute. Hilliard deflected a free kick by Jordan Murrell with the back of his head over the outstretched arms of DePaul goalkeeper Eric Sorby.
Freshman midfielder Jordan Vale added to the Orange lead with another header in the 40th minute off a high-arching cross from Juuso Pasanen. The strike was Vale’s eighth of the season, coming on yet another header.
“With Jordan Vale you expect that from him week in, week out,” SU forward Louis Clark said. “He’s probably the best header of the ball I’ve ever played with. He’s unbelievable in the air. It was a great finish.”
Despite getting outshot 12-3 in the first 45 minutes, the Blue Demons put pressure on SU in the second frame, outshooting the Orange 9-3.
Syracuse held off the attack, though, as Alex Bono made five saves to post his ninth shutout of the season.
“Give credit to DePaul,” McIntyre said. “I thought they worked really, really hard. And sometimes that happens when a team is out of the tournament. They played with a freshness, a looseness and really got amongst us and had us on the back foot.”
McIntyre said his team didn’t play its best game, but he was pleased with the team’s resilience when DePaul made its push.
Clark admitted he wasn’t sharp against the Blue Demons, but he still helped lead the Orange to a win. The senior didn’t want it to be his last home game and was overjoyed after the win.
“I couldn’t wish for it to be any better,” Clark said. “It’s a weird feeling. I’m not ready to stop playing. The crowd that came out tonight was unbelievable. I can’t even put into words how good I feel right now.”
Vale said he was prepared to do everything in his power to send the seniors off with a win. His goal helped seal the postseason berth for the Orange.
“It means a lot to them,” Vale said. “They just wanted to come out here and get a win and try to get another home game, which we have now. I’m not sure what senior night really is.
“I thought it was the last home game. So I guess there’s another senior night the next home game.”
That next home game will come in the Big East tournament after Syracuse finishes the regular season on Friday against St. John’s.
McIntyre said this year’s senior class is the class he has been most proud of during his coaching career.
“We weren’t great tonight, but we did enough,” McIntyre said. “I’m so proud of the guys. It’s been a long time since we’ve secured a Big East postseason berth.”
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