Men's Lacrosse

No. 6 Syracuse’s defense stifles No. 14 Johns Hopkins, 8-7, in low-scoring affair

Courtesy of SU Athletics

All season, the Orange has hoped its defense can string floss together long enough for superior firepower to simply bludgeon opponents with more shots. Saturday, a stalwart defense afforded SU’s offense just enough time to break through.

BALTIMORE — Syracuse didn’t need its defense in the overtime period, but that unit was the only reason the Orange made it there.

Before junior transfer midfielder Brendan Bomberry scored the overtime game-winner on Syracuse’s first possession, No. 6 SU (5-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) limited one of the NCAA’s most balanced offenses in No. 14 Johns Hopkins (4-3) to nearly half of its season average total goals.  The 8-7 chippy Orange win in extra time over its historic rivals at Homewood Field on Saturday afternoon represented Syracuse’s 45th consecutive victory when holding opponents to fewer than 10 goals. Neither coach, JHU’s Dave Pietramala or SU’s John Desko, expected such a low-scoring contest between teams that combine to average 25 goals per game.

“Both defenses played pretty well,” Desko said. “Evan (Molloy) made some big saves for us.”

Syracuse’s redshirt senior goalie saved seven of the 14 shots the Blue Jays threw on net, including five in the second quarter alone to spur 26:35 stretch between the first and third quarters when SU scored four unanswered goals.

Two acrobatic saves by Molloy in the midst of the stretch, with SU down two players due to penalty, kept the momentum in Orange favor. Syracuse carried a 3-2 advantage into halftime and thoroughly stifled an offense accustomed to pouring in 12 goals per game. JHU scored four of its seven goals man-up or in transition.

“Absolutely I’m disappointed in our output offensively,” Pietramala said. “We’ve got to find different ways to generate goals. … I don’t think many of (Molloy’s) saves were … I don’t think he had to make many. But five or six of them were pretty darn good ones.”

The Orange’s defensive line, once rendered a liability by injuries and inexperience in high-flying shootouts, showed its maturation Saturday by playing a major role in keeping the Orange afloat late.

With 1:34 left in the game and JHU leading 7-6, do-it-all midfielder Joel Tinney slashed toward the net to double the Orange deficit and seal a Blue Jay victory. Redshirt freshman Andrew Helmer, who essentially rotates at longstick midfielder with redshirt sophomore Austin Fusco, knew he was beat and used Tinney’s momentum against him. Helmer shoved Tinney in the back. The junior stumbled. As the ball rolled from Tinney’s stick into the back of the net, the referees waved off the goal because Tinney’s trip landed him inside the crease for a violation.

The defensive play, made in desperation or deftness, likely saved Syracuse.

All season, the Orange has hoped its defense can string floss together long enough for superior firepower to simply bludgeon opponents with more shots. Saturday, a stalwart defense afforded SU’s offense, not displaying its 13 goals per game average either, just enough time to break through. SU’s 32 shots was one above its season low.

Sixty seconds after Tinney’s waved-off dagger, senior Nick Mariano ended SU’s ensuing possession with an overtime-forcing goal.

Syracuse had prepared for Tinney, the engineer of JHU’s infamous hidden-ball trick goals and a constant threat because of his quickness. Fusco shadowed him and shut off his left hand, trying to take away any advantage the junior could create. That strategy reflected SU’s similar approach with stars junior Shack Stanwick (3.17 points per game) and senior John Crawley (2.33 points per game). The Orange limited the pair to a combined one point, a Stanwick assist.

Fully aware of the threat Stanwick posed as a feeder, Syracuse assigned converted-LSM Scott Firman to him. The senior stayed in the Blue Jay’s hands, refusing to yield space and Stanwick helplessly watched from his maestro position behind the net as the JHU offense came up empty possession after possession.

“We communicated really well,” Molloy said. “They didn’t have any goals in the 6-on-6 set. Some (goals on) broken plays and transitions, but we did our assignments.”

Forty minutes before the game, the necessity of physicality in a contest that exhibited perhaps anything but finesse was foreshadowed when Johns Hopkins and Syracuse broke from their normal pregame warmups to have a shoving match at midfield. Half of either team, about 40 players in total, jawed and bodied each other as flags flew. No one remembered starting a game with players in the penalty box before.

“That’s just Syracuse-Hopkins for you,” Molloy said later.

When Bomberry put home the game-winner in overtime, players again sprinted from the sidelines. Molloy and the defensive line were among the first to reach Bomberry and form another heaving mass. This time, though, the jerseys were the same color, and they danced on Johns Hopkins’ side of the field.

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