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Syracuse men’s lacrosse: Late winner pushes Orange past No. 11 North Carolina, 15-14

How about a double-dip of wins over the Tar Heels?

North Carolina v Syracuse

The Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team kept their postseason hopes alive on Saturday with a 15-14 win over the No. 11 North Carolina Tar Heels on a goal by freshman Michael Leo with 12 seconds remaining to improve the Orange to 8-5 and 1-3 in the ACC.

Leo displayed a lot of guts in a late-game situation and some fancy maneuvering as he went right around his defender, showed great footwork and body control, and dove low for a strong finish to give the Orange the win. It was an amazing display from the freshman.

The win is SU’s second in a row over a ranked team after losing 11 straight, and it also their first ACC win after losing seven in a row over the last two seasons.

The game, played at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, MD, was a complete mess from a possession standpoint. Taking care of the ball was not exactly at a premium as the teams combined for 34 turnovers and nine failed clears. It was ugly for the most part, but someone had to win it. And that team turned out to be SU as the young Orange continue to grow and learn how to win tight games.

‘Cuse was crushed once again on face-offs, 22-10, and ground balls, 49-35, but this time they overcame it. A big reason why was the 18 North Carolina turnovers, 12 of which were caused by the Orange. Those turnovers made it much harder for the Tar Heels to fully capitalize on all the possession advantage afforded them by their face-off wins and ‘Cuse’s failed clears.

Not only did the Orange go 16-of-22 on clears, but four of those failed clears led directly to UNC goals, an absolute disaster for a Syracuse team already struggling for possession. To the credit of both the players and the coaching staff, the team did settle down after halftime. Only five of SU’s 16 turnovers and one of their six failed clears occurred in the second half. Cleaning those mistakes up, for the most part, played a huge role in securing the win.

Owen Hiltz (1G, 4A) led the way with five points and four assists. Cole Kirst (3G, 1A) had another strong game with a hat trick and four points, and Griffin Cook (2G, 1A) had his highest-scoring game of the season with three points.

Joey Spallina (2G, 1A) was held down for most of the day, but scored two huge goals in the fourth quarter as the Orange were attempting to pull ahead. Michael Leo (2G) put them ahead for good with his goal with 12 seconds left, one of two he scored on the day. Jackson Birtwistle (2G) also scored a pair.

Will Mark was a big difference maker in cage for SU, making 13 saves versus only eight for UNC goalie Collin Kreig.

The last two weeks have been incredibly exciting as ‘Cuse has pulled out wins in situations they would not have earlier in the season. Last week, they dominated on face-offs and showed what they’re capable of when they win more possessions. Today, they reverted back to their old form, but for the first time this season, won a game against a ranked opponent while getting crushed in the possession battle. This young group is showing a lot of growth, and that is very exciting as this program continues their upward trajectory.

The Orange will be back in action next weekend when they travel down to Charlottesville for a meeting with the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday, April 22 at 2 PM on ESPNU.