Men's Lacrosse

Balanced attack leads No. 2 seed Syracuse over Yale, 11-10, to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals

Jordan Phelps | Staff Photographer

No. 2 Syracuse did just enough to set up a NCAA quarterfinal date with Towson next Sunday in Delaware.

After Stephen Rehfuss wound up into his crow-hop to unleash the game-winner from 10 yards out, teammates corralled the redshirt freshman attack. They tapped his helmet, and they hugged him tight. Senior midfielder Nick Mariano, who scored twice, leapt high on the sideline, as the Carrier Dome crowd rose to its loudest level of the night. Syracuse’s savior hadn’t scored all night, but Rehfuss punched home SU’s ticket to the NCAA quarterfinals.

“It was a miscommunication on defense,” Rehfuss said, “and (senior attack Jordan Evans) found me.”

It didn’t matter who it was. Or where it came from. Syracuse’s sixth game-winner slung from the stick of its fifth different player. Nick Mariano, Sergio Salcido, Brendan Bomberry, Jamie Trimboli — and now Rehfuss have all stepped up in the final moments. In a season of late-game heroics, the Orange prevailed Sunday night with a late score to beat Yale, 11-10, and improve to 9-2 in one-goal games.

After winning the Ivy League tournament last weekend, the Bulldogs ran into as balanced an offense the Orange has put together. No. 2 Syracuse (13-2, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) fought from down three at the start of the second half to mount its latest comeback and advance past No. 15 Yale (10-6, 5-1 Ivy) in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Orange march on to the University of Delaware for the NCAA quarterfinals next Sunday to face Towson, while Yale, ranked No. 6 in the preseason top 20, heads home.

SU head coach John Desko earned his 500th win, including his time as a player and assistant. It’s also SU’s 11th victory in its last 12 games, this one in a contest during which Yale won 18-of-22 faceoffs. Syracuse didn’t win a faceoff over a 40-minute stretch and still came out on top, thanks to an 11-goal attack spread across nine different scorers.

“How we made the difference was the lack of turnovers,” Desko said. “We had only four turnovers and we were perfect on the clears. We did the things we had to do to be really efficient when we did have the ball.”

Last Saturday at unranked Colgate, Syracuse committed 17 turnovers and Mariano didn’t notch a single point. SU prevailed for an 11-9 victory, though Desko said this week that to beat any team in the postseason, that turnover total would have to be, at the very least, cut in half.

For much of the game, especially the first half, Yale parked in Syracuse territory. Bulldogs junior attack Ben Reeves, who last week was named a top-five finalist for the Tewaaraton Award for the second straight year, entered with a team-high 38 goals and 35 assists. He poured home four goals and two assists, none bigger than his last two to help Yale tie it up at 10.

With under eight minutes remaining, Reeves backed down SU close defender Scott Firman and tomahawked a shot resembling a sky-hook to pull the Bulldogs within one. On Yale’s next possession, he swept left, worked off a shallow pick and bounced in his fourth goal to knot the score.

Like clockwork, SU had strung together a 6-1 run to take a 10-8 lead. Senior attack Jordan Evans kicked his leg out, threw an air punch and jumped after he tied the score at 8. Syracuse has erased deficits of at least four goals on four separate occasions this year, trailed Duke by two with six minutes left to win, and trailed Yale by three early in the third quarter.

In February, the Orange lost All-ACC defender Nick Mellen to a season-ending injury. The graduation of leading attack and All-American Dylan Donahue left a hole at the top of the offense, which featured three new faces at attack. Goalie Evan Molloy entered his first year as the clear-cut starter. SU has since gone 7-2 versus Top 20 teams, 5-1 versus top 10 teams, and 2-0 against those in the top five.

Mariano’s game-winner over Albany foreshadowed a season of big-time moments. Salcido, speedster and assist man, hit the game-winner against Virginia, the start of SU’s nine-game winning streak. Three more game-winners ensued. The latest came Sunday, following a “One stop,” chant from the Yale sideline. One stop the Bulldogs never got.

Syracuse’s win became one stop — one stop in SU’s pursuit of ending the program’s longest national championship drought since 1983, which can be snapped with three more wins.

With 2:09 on the clock, Rehfuss found room, swept left and hit top shelf to put Syracuse one victory away from its first Final Four since 2013.

“Offensively, we did our job and we moved off ball better than I’ve seen all year,” said Mariano, who bumped his team-high goals total to 34 with two scores and an assist. “Nine guys scored goals. For an offense, that’s incredible to do.”

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