The 2023 Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse season ended much the same way that it existed throughout: losing a game because they couldn’t hang at the face-off dot.
That was the case one final time on Saturday afternoon down in Durham, where the Orange lost their season finale to the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils, 18-15, to finish the season with a record of 8-7 and 1-5 in the ACC.
‘Cuse fought hard, refusing to let their season end without one final push, as they scored four straight goals to open the fourth quarter and turn a 15-9 deficit into a 15-13 ballgame. But ultimately, there was just too much Duke offense for the Orange to be able to pull off what would have been a shocking comeback.
Jake Naso and the Blue Devils dominated on FOs, 22-13 (.629 percent), and their dynamic duo of Dyson Williams (6G, 1A) and Brennan O’Neill (4G, 2A) were virtually unstoppable in leading the Duke offense to an 18-goal day. To the credit of Johnny Richiusa and Jack Fine, they did do much better in the second half. After getting owned, 14-4, in the first half, they actually won the second half battle, 9-8, over Naso.
The Syracuse offense had a really strong day themselves, putting home 15 goals despite the struggles on restarts. They didn’t have the best shooting day ever, although not terrible at 33 percent, but they were as creative as always and their passing was lethal when it was on point. It was yet another reminder of what this team and this offense is capable of if they can figure out the face-off situation going into next year.
Joey Spallina (2G, 3A) was once again the headliner with a five-point day to lead the team, while fellow freshman Luke Rhoa (3G) saved the best day of his rookie season for last with his first career hat trick. Owen Hiltz (1G, 2A) had three points of his own, including a phenomenal behind-the-back pass moving in the opposite direction for Rhoa’s first goal of the game.
In their final game in an Orange uniform, Alex Simmons (2G, 1A), Cole Kirst (2G), and Griffin Cook (1G) all got on the score sheet led by Simmons’ three points. Michael Leo (1G, 2A) also finished with three points, and Jackson Birtwistle (2G) had two goals.
The defense got picked apart for much of the afternoon by Duke, who finished with 10 assists and shot an outstanding 46 percent for the game (18-of-39). They did cause seven turnovers, but there were just so many breakdowns that led to good looks for the Blue Devils. Everybody was a culprit at one point or another.
Will Mark finished with 10 saves, including a few where he stole goals away, but he was faced with way too many strong scoring opportunities to hold them down all that much. Get this man a better FOGO and a few more defensive pieces (which are coming), and there’s no telling how well he can play next year. I mean, the guy was an All-American this season with a difficult setup in front of him.
It’s a disappointing way to end a season where the team was overall on the rise, but it was good to see them fight hard and keep it close in yet another road matchup with one of the best, most complete teams in the country. We’re a long ways off, but this team wants more, and they’re going to get it as we move forward into next spring.