We came into the day knowing that the Syracuse Orange men's lacrosse team had only pride to play for in their final two weekends of the season.
Unfortunately for the Orange, pride was in short supply in this one as they were taken down by the No. 6 Virginia Cavaliers, 21-15.
‘Cuse falls to UVA.— Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse (@CuseMLAX) April 23, 2022
One more left at the Dome. Time to regroup and work for the last one. pic.twitter.com/agFhUB9Ht8
While the final margin ended up being “only” six, the Orange were down by as many as 10 midway through the third quarter and nine early in the fourth before scoring four of the last five goals of the game.
SU was simply overmatched in this game by a Virginia team that is on a much higher plain of existence at the moment. The talent, the effort, the intensity; there was just a gulf between the two.
Let’s put that sentiment into numbers. Virginia had as many goals in this game as Syracuse had shots on goal (21). That’s on both ends of the field, where the offense turned it over too much and couldn't generate enough looks at the cage, and the defense could barely make a stop.
The defense continued to play poorly, to put it nicely, in this game. They gave up six goals in each of the first three quarters before UVA put their feet up and only scored three in the final frame.
Virginia’s got a ton of offensive talent, but the Syracuse defense made them look almost invincible out there. In the first quarter, the Cavaliers scored five straight goals. And not just five straight in the game; they scored on five straight possessions. In the third quarter, the Cavs scored six straight in a span of seven minutes.
In a game where we were looking to spot performances that could be considered positives heading into next season, there was really only one that stood out: Jackson Birtwistle.
Birtwistle, who was getting the first start of his career in this game, made the best case possible for why people should be excited about him moving forward. Not only did he have a tremendous game scoring five goals, he did it in a way that might just perfectly compliment next year’s offense. For a team that should be loaded with incredible ball-dominant talent like Tucker Dordevic, Owen Hiltz, and Joey Spallina, among others, Birtwistle’s ability to mostly play off-ball, and then catch-and-release to still produce huge goal numbers could be an invaluable asset to next year’s team.
Birtwistle has gotten increased playing time the last three weeks, and he’s made the absolute most of it. He’s scored 10 goals in the last three games while shooting 10-of-17 (59 percent), including this gorgeous BTB finish today:
Career high four goals for Birtwistle!— Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse (@CuseMLAX) April 23, 2022
Watch on ESPNU pic.twitter.com/aCmRHxBo5l
While the prospects of next year’s offense are tantalizing, the thought of the future of the Orange defense is giving me a headache. This year’s Syracuse defense has been staggeringly, almost incomprehensibly bad overall. There are so many issues, both individually and collectively, but the most frustrating to me is that the communication and cohesion of this unit has failed to improve all season long.
On Saturday against Virginia, I saw a defense that continues to slide when they don’t need to, gets confused about who is guarding which player, looses sight of the player they’re supposed to be guarding, and as a result of all that, ends up leaving countless players open with time and room to set their feet for easy looks at the goal.
I’m not expecting them to shut down the likes of Connor Shellenberger and Matt Moore, but the way that this defense constantly leaves guys wide open has been going on all season, and that lack of growth is a major problem.
As excited as I am about the offensive prospects for next season, that’s how much apprehension I feel about the defense.
The story of the day was Birtwistle’s five goals, but it was Brendan Curry who led SU in scoring for the day with six points on two goals and four assists. Tucker Dordevic had a hat trick, and defensive midfielders Carter Rice and Brandon Aviles each had a goal and an assists, which included the first goal of Rice’s career. Harrison Thompson made 10 saves in relief of Bobby Gavin in this game.
Syracuse’s 2022 season will mercifully come to an end next weekend when they host Notre Dame on Senior Day on Sunday, May 1 at 12 PM on ESPN U.