The Syracuse Orange went into Louisville on Saturday afternoon looking to lock up the top seed in the ACC Tournament this coming week, but came up short against the Cardinals, 9-8. Losing the game drops the Orange (13-5 overall, 5-2 ACC) to the No. 2 seed and will face seventh-seeded Virginia Tech on Thursday evening in Richmond. Louisville (11-6 overall, 3-4 ACC) got the NCAA Tournament resume win that they so desperately needed and now have a pretty good shot at getting in.
The Cardinals drew first blood at the 24:47 mark on a Hannah Koloski unassisted goal. It was followed up five minutes later when Natalie Wallon was called for a yellow card. Louisville cashed in on the man-up opportunity when Jillian Balog scored off of a Meghan Siverson feed to lead 2-0 with 19:44 left in the first half.
Syracuse would finally score 20 minutes into the game when Alie Jimerson got an unassisted goal to cut the Cardinal lead to 2-1. Just 39 seconds later, Riley Donahue got the feed from Cara Quimby and the game was tied at 2 with 9:11 left in the half.
Louisville would not waste any time in responding and scored two quick goals of their own between the 8:25 and 7:30 marks to regain the two-goal advantage. The two teams then traded a free position goal each and the Cardinals went into halftime up 5-3.
Louisville struck first in the second half, getting two more goals in roughly the first five minutes to extend their lead to 7-3. But the Orange weren't out of it yet. Donahue, Devon Parker and Wallon would each score over the next ten minutes and the Cardinal lead was cut to just one at 7-6 with 12:16 left in the contest.
Louisville largely negated that run when Siverson scored 26 seconds later off of a feed from Madison Hoover. McKayla Conti followed that up four minutes later with another goal and the Cardinal lead was 9-6.
Syracuse had some life left when Wallon got a pair of goals within 41 seconds each other to get back within one at 9-8 with just 1:31 remaining. However, as had been the case for most of the day, the Cardinals would get a key draw control by Siverson and they were able to run the clock out to seal the win.
Both teams played pretty solid defense for the most part. For Louisville, Hoover had three ground balls and a caused turnover, Alex Rich had two ground balls and two caused turnovers, Stephanie McNamara had four ground balls and Emily Howell had two ground balls and one caused turnover. The Orange were held well below their shots per game average (33) with only 23 shots on goal, eight of them free positions.
On the 'Cuse side, Kaeli O'Connor had three ground balls and one caused turnover, Kathy Rudkin had two ground balls and a caused turnover and Kelsey Youmell added two ground balls and two caused turnovers. Both goalies played well today. Brittany Read had nine saves against eight goals, while Asa Goldstock flipped that with eight saves, nine goals allowed and nabbed seven ground balls.
In yesterday's preview, I said that the Orange needed to contain either/both Koloski and Siverson. Koloski was pretty quiet on the afternoon after scoring the first goal of the game. However, Siverson had a big day with three goals and two assists. However, Balog stepped up and netted a pair of goals. Hoover also had a big day with three assists.
On the Syracuse side, Wallon had another good offensive showing with three goals while Donahue had a pair of goals and an assist. Jimerson had a goal and an assist, Neena Merola and Parker also added a goal each. Nicole Levy returned in this game after being sidelined with an injury during the Loyola game. She and Cara Quimby had one assist each.
Syracuse gained momentum after scoring three straight goals over a 10-minute period in the second half to cut the Louisville lead to 7-6 with 12:16 remaining. Koloski got the draw control for the Cardinals and Siverson scored 26 seconds later. Conti's goal at the 7:56 mark was the icing on the cake.
There were three major factors that contributed to SU's loss on Saturday. One was at the draw circle, where Louisville gained a 12-7 advantage. The Cardinals stymied Syracuse momentum numerous times because of these draw controls. Howell finished the day with five for Louisville. Morgan Widner was held to just two draw controls on the day. When SU needed it the most with 90 seconds left, Siverson came up with the critical draw and sealed the game for Louisville.
Slow starts have plagued the Orange all year long but none were as slow as today. Syracuse did not score for the first 20 minutes of the game and managed only four shots (two shots on goal) in that time frame. By contrast, Louisville had nine shots (five on goal) and two goals.
Free positions were the final factor that led to the Orange defeat. Going into this game, Louisville hit 48% of their free position shots. They went 2-for-5 today (40%), which is a little below average. Syracuse was 38% before today, but went a dismal 1-for-8 (about 13%) this afternoon.
Big Factor Honorable Mention
Syracuse averaged two yellow cards a game and got four today (one of which came with four seconds left in the game). Louisville scored on one of those man-up situations. Louisville had one for the day, which the Orange did score on.
What Happens Now?
Syracuse moves on to the ACC Tournament, where they will face Virginia Tech on Thursday. While I do think this loss will push the Orange a couple of spots back, either just in or just beyond the top 10 (probably 10 or 11), it didn't have much impact on the RPI status. SU had a RPI of 5 going into the Cornell game and that stayed the same with the Louisville loss.
The Orange are still in the hunt for a seeded spot in the NCAAT (there are eight seeds), but are probably on the bubble again. Geography plays as much of a role as anything else in selecting the seeds and I suspect that Northwestern and USC/Colorado will get two of those as Midwest and Far West representatives, respectively. That leaves six more and you have to assume that Maryland, Florida, North Carolina and Penn St. will likely get four more of those. That leaves Princeton, Syracuse, Stony Brook and perhaps even Penn for the last two spots. Princeton has a better RPI than the Orange and also have a win over SU this year, so it's a decent bet that they could get one of those slots. If we do get one of those spots, we're probably looking at a No. 6 or 7 seed. It will probably come down to how well the 'Cuse does in the ACCT.