Dylan Donahue scored just one goal, but it might have been the most important one of the season for the Syracuse men's lacrosse team.
The redshirt freshman attackman converted a feed from senior midfielder JoJo Marasco with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter to help the top-seeded Orange escape past Yale, 7-6, in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal before an announced 3,939 at Byrd Stadium on Saturday.
Syracuse, which has captured more Division I national championships (10) than any other program, improved to 15-3. The Orange will meet the winner of Sunday's quarterfinal between fourth-seeded Denver (13-4) and fifth-seeded North Carolina (13-3) on May 25 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
With the victory, Syracuse avoided becoming only the third No. 1 seed to fail to make the national semifinals. The 2011 Orange squad lost to Maryland in the quarterfinals, and the 1999 Loyola team was bounced by Syracuse in the quarterfinals.
The Orange's senior class also avoided becoming the first group since the Class of 1979 to graduate without advancing to the final four at least once in four years.
Syracuse sprinted to a 4-0 advantage before falling into a drought of 43:18, during which the Bulldogs scored six unanswered goals, including a tally from senior midfielder Michael Lipin with 13:00 left in regulation.
But the Orange (15-3) scored three times in the final four minutes, including two in a span of 44 seconds, to pull off the comeback win.
Marasco held the ball up top and initially looked for senior midfielder Luke Cometti or junior attackman Derek Maltz working off screens. But he spotted Donahue backing out of a scrum in the slot and zipped a pass to him just left of the cage.
"They were looking to slide to JoJo," said Donahue, who finished with one goal and two assists. "I could see that all of the guys wanted to go, and my guy's head was turned. They left me open for a while there, and I was just waiting for JoJo. I think he saw me the whole time, but he was just waiting for the right time."
After Lipin's goal gave Yale a 6-4 lead, nearly 10 minutes elapsed before Syracuse cut the deficit in half with sophomore attackman Kevin Rice curling around the left post and tucking a shot over sophomore goalkeeper Eric Natale (Westminster) and under the crossbar with 3:04 left in the fourth quarter.
Forty-four seconds later, Marasco dodged down the right alley before flipping the ball back to senior midfielder Luke Cometti standing in the slot to tie the score at 6.
The Bulldogs won the ensuing faceoff and had a golden opportunity to regain the lead when junior attackman Brandon Mangan passed the ball to sophomore attackman Conrad Oberbeck cutting to the crease.
But junior goalie Dominic Lamolinara stoned Oberbeck on the doorstep, and Donahue made Lamolinara's play stand with his game-winner.
"I just turned and kept my stick high," said Lamolinara, a St. Mary's grad who made nine saves. "I was too close to the shooter for him to put it low. So I just kept my stick high, and it went right in there."
Oberbeck was shocked that the ball did not find its way past Lamolinara.
"I really thought I canned it," he said. "Some breaks just don't go your way, but I thought it was going to go in."
The Orange comeback followed a power outage that stretched over all four quarters — an unexpected turn for an offense that entered averaging 12 goals a game (No. 9 in the country). Yale took advantage, and Syracuse coach John Desko said he was delighted to see the offense return in the final frame.
"We got the goals earlier in the game, and then I think maybe we got too comfortable with things," he said. "They started changing their defense, going to a zone defense from a man-to-man defense and doing some different things. And we got sloppy. … We had some turnovers there, and we had some opportunities. We were one-on-one with the goalie a couple times and weren't able to finish."
Mangan paced Yale with three goals, but the Bulldogs (12-5) missed out on their first national semifinal appearance since 1990. Coach Andy Shay said the defense sagged a little on Donahue's goal.
"We shoved off when we probably wanted to hang tight with our men," Shay said. "Marasco's a great feeder. He's got excellent vision, and he had a full look at it. He was able to throw it through, and they made the play."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun