Men's Lacrosse

No. 2 Syracuse’s top 3 offensive threats combine for 1 goal in NCAA quarterfinals loss

Sabrina Koenig | Asst. Photo Editor

Sergio Salcido scored Syracuse's first goal, but was held scoreless the rest of the game.

NEWARK, Del. — No play better encapsulated what the Towson defense did to Syracuse’s three top offensive players than the one in the first quarter, when Jordan Evans fell down flat on his back. He met a wall of four Tigers defenders, who hacked the SU senior and batted the ball away. SU head coach John Desko patted his head, as if to say, “Be smarter.” That shaped up to be the epitome of what Towson did to Syracuse, holding the Orange to seven goals, its fewest all year.

The trio that averaged 9.1 points per game this season produced only one goal and two assists Sunday afternoon — and a season-worst four turnovers. Senior midfielder Sergio Salcido scored SU’s first goal, ending Towson’s 6-0 run to start the game. He was held scoreless the rest of the way. Fellow seniors Nick Mariano and Evans did not score a single goal in No. 2 Syracuse’s (13-3, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) 10-7, season-ending loss to No. 11 Towson (12-4, 4-1 Colonial Athletic) on Raymond Field at Delaware Stadium.

“Their pole does a terrific job,” said Desko, who finished his 19th season at the helm of Syracuse. “He created some turnovers in the game. Their shorties, both of them on the field together, are probably the best unit in the country.”

The Orange scored its fewest goals since its season-ending loss to Maryland a year ago. Syracuse, ranked No. 1 in the country for three weeks this season, but failed to reach the Final Four for the fourth straight year. This year’s senior class became the first to not reach Memorial Day weekend since 1979. The Orange’s longest national championship drought since 1983 endures, and SU drops to just 3-4 in NCAA tournament games over the last three years.

Syracuse’s three best offensive players each ended his career with only one point. Mariano, a transfer from Massachusetts set on leading SU to is first national title in eight years, scored 21 more goals than anyone else on the team over the last two seasons. He had no goals on seven shots in the final game of his college career.

Salcido, who hit two game-winners this season, led Syracuse with 33 assists. The shifty speedster rose from walk-on to one of the top facilitators on one of the nation’s top teams. He created match-up problems with an ability to go left or right, break down a defender and get his shot off despite his diminutive stature (5 feet, 7 inches and 166 pounds). He had one goal and zero assists.

Evans, a senior attack from nearby Jamesville-DeWitt (New York) High School, chose SU as a sophomore after Desko offered him the venerable No. 22 jersey. He became only the second player to wear the number since 1988 and not capture a national title. The nation’s former No. 1 recruit, Evans played the best lacrosse of his career in the games leading up to the Towson matchup. He ranked third on SU in points, with 44. He finished with zero goals and only one assist on Sunday.

Evans, Mariano and Salcido were not made available for post-game interviews.

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Sabrina Koenig | Asst. Photo Editor

“I thought they they were unbelievable,” said SU senior defender Scott Firman, who shut down top attacks all season. “They were the core of this team, beyond what the fans can see.”

Syracuse came back from down by four or more goals on four separate occasions this season. Most times, Salcido or Mariano led that charge. Salcido scored the game-winners against Virginia and at North Carolina. Mariano hit the game-winner against Albany in the season-opener, and he scored SU’s last two goals at then-No. 1 Notre Dame last month, a trademark victory that prefaced SU’s three-week tenure ranked No. 1. Salcido and Mariano worked in tandem to spearhead SU, which entered Sunday as owners of the nation’s 11th-ranked offense.

The duo ran into a wall of a defense in Towson, unlike any other the Orange has faced this season. The Tigers boast the country’s third-ranked defense, allowing just south of 7.5 goals per game. They held a potent, balanced SU offense — nine different players scored a goal against Yale last Sunday — to five scores below its season average.

Doing so required shutdown work on Mariano, Salcido and Evans. When the trio found open shots, they were often saved by Towson goalkeeper Matt Hoy, who finished with 12 saves and helped the Tigers reach its first Final Four in 16 years.

Hoy prefers opponents to shoot via alley-dodges, not sweeps. That became part of the game plan that held silent one of the most potent midfields in the country. The Tigers defense forced SU players down the alleys, not sweeps from cage-extended. Mariano thrived on sweeps all season, even developing his right hand to counter defenders who forced him weak hand. He scored three or more goals on seven separate occasions this year.

Towson’s three defensive midfielders, second team All-American Zach Goodrich, Jack Adams and Tyler Mayes, who caused his 38th and 39th turnovers of the year, combined for five caused turnovers and picked up six ground balls to slow SU’s offensive trio.

“Even though they had one of the best offensive midfields we’ve seen all year,” Hoy said, “our D-Middies did an incredible job making sure those middies weren’t shooting with their hands free.”

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Sabrina Koenig | Asst. Photo Editor

Salcido and Mariano created a one-two punch that opposing teams feared. Whether to double-pole them or leave Mariano with a short-stick defensive midfielder became one of opposing coaches’ most talked-about topics. Evans, meanwhile, was heating up from behind the cage.

All of that came to a crashing end Sunday afternoon, as Towson’s defense stifled the best SU’s offense had to offer.

“I’ve only got one shot at a national championship,” Mariano said two weeks ago. “I’ve got to make it happen.”

That did not happen, and the three best offensive players on one of SU’s more successful teams since 2009 will now egress into Syracuse lacrosse lore.

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