PHILADELPHIA — Living dangerously seems to appeal to the Syracuse men’s lacrosse team.
Junior attackman Derek Maltz scored after collecting a rebound with 19.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter to lead the top-seeded Orange to a 9-8 win against fourth-seeded Denver in the Division I semifinal Saturday evening.
Syracuse, which needed a goal from redshirt freshman attackman Dylan Donahue with 13 seconds left to nip Yale, 7-6, in last Saturday’s quarterfinal, advanced to the championship final in front of an announced crowd 28,444 at Lincoln Financial Field. It marks the first time that attendance for a Division I semifinal dropped below 30,000 since the Division I semifinals and final and Division II and III finals had moved to professional stadiums for the 2003 season.
The Orange (16-4), whose senior class hopes to avoid becoming the first group since 1999 to graduate without capturing a national championship, will meet seventh-seeded Duke at 1 p.m. on Monday. The Blue Devils (15-5) held off Cornell, 16-14, in the first semifinal.
Syracuse won its seventh one-goal contest in 10 games this season, which caused coach John Desko to say, “It’s our 10th one-goal game and unfortunately, I’m almost getting used to it. But we keep coming out on the right side of it.”
Senior midfielder JoJo Marasco emphasized that he and his teammates would prefer winning comfortably. “We really don’t enjoy these one-goal games,” he said.
With the Pioneers nursing a 7-4 lead after three quarters, the Orange trimmed the deficit to one with Maltz taking advantage of a pass from Marasco with 10:23 left in the fourth period and junior midfielder Scott Loy converting a feed from Donahue with 8:17 remaining.
Denver regained a two-goal gap at 8-6 when senior midfielder Taylor Young centered a pass to senior attackman Eric Law with 5:17 left.
But Syracuse capped regulation on a 3-0 run. Marasco converted an extra-man goal with 2:35 remaining and then fed senior midfielder Luke Cometti for his third goal of the game with 58.8 seconds left.
After the Orange forced the Pioneers into a turnover after winning the ensuing faceoff, Cometti dodged down the right alley, and his shot bounced off junior goalkeeper Jamie Faus into Maltz’s stick for the game-winning tally.
“He took the ball hard to the cage, and the ball trickled off the goalie’s chest,” Maltz said. “I was basically just in the right spot at the right time, and I’m just thankful the ball went into the back of the net, and we’re moving onto Monday.”
Syracuse was paced by Marasco’s two goals and three assists, and Donahue contributed one goal and two assists.
Denver scored the game’s first three goals to sprint to a 3-0 advantage and took the biggest lead of the contest when junior midfielder Jeremy Noble ran down the right alley and skipped the ball to Law standing alone on the left wing and he went low to give the Pioneers a 6-2 lead with 11:13 left in the third quarter.
The Orange responded with their first back-to-back goals of the game. Marasco curled around the right post, spun back to his left, and fired high to end a scoreless drought of 15:42.
The Orange made it 6-4 when redshirt sophomore midfielder Hakeem Lecky dodged from the right wing and found Donahue just to the left of the net for the one-timer with 4:30 left.
But Denver answered with 1:25 remaining when senior attackman Colin Scott working behind the cage centered the ball to Young in the slot for the goal.
Law led the Pioneers with three goals, and sophomore midfielder Eric Adamson scored twice. But sophomore attackman Wesley Berg, who had scored 12 goals in the team’s first two NCAA tournament games, was shut out by sophomore defenseman Sean Young and did not take a single shot.
The loss spoiled a scintillating performance by sophomore goalkeeper Ryan LaPlante, who made 13 saves and surrendered just two goals in the first half. Faus, who has replaced LaPlante after halftime all season, finished with four saves and gave up seven goals.
“It’s always heartbreaking to lose at the end, but there’s only one winner,” coach Bill Tierney said. “We felt like we had them. We felt like we played well enough to win. A couple of bad breaks at the end, but good teams make bad breaks.”