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College Lacrosse

Faceoff X could mark the spot in Syracuse-Johns Hopkins lacrosse matchup

In two games against the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team last spring, Syracuse faceoff specialist Ben Williams won 62.3 percent (38 of 61) of his draws and scooped up 21 ground balls.

Williams claimed 22 of 34 faceoffs and 10 ground balls in the second meeting, but Blue Jays freshman Hunter Moreland won the last draw in the final 23 seconds to cement a 16-15 win in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals on May 17. It's a memory that Williams, now a junior, hasn't forgotten.

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"That game, the stats don't reflect what I thought of that game," he said. "I thought I could've been better. That definitely left a chip on my shoulder."

Williams and the No. 3 Orange (5-0) will carry that chip to Homewood Field in Baltimore when they clash with No. 8 Johns Hopkins (3-2) on Saturday at 4 p.m. The contest will mark the 55th meeting between the two programs with 19 national championships among them.

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Saturday will feature two top-15 offenses (Syracuse is ranked third at 14.4 goals per game, while the Blue Jays are tied for 12th at 12.4), but the game within the game will center on the faceoff X where Moreland, now a sophomore, and senior Craig Madarasz will attempt to slow Williams.

Williams ranks second in the country in faceoff percentage at 70.1 percent (75-for-107) and eighth in ground balls per game at 7.4. The 6-foot, 198-pound midfielder finished last season ranked second in the nation in faceoff percentage (67.4) and first in ground balls per game (9.6).

"Ben is one of the best in the country right now at what he does," said Moreland, a 5-11, 195-pound White Hall resident who graduated from Boys' Latin. "He's just constantly on the whistle, very strong, quick to rotate. Not that he did anything super special, but he was just very good with his technique and his feet. He was always there on the ball, and he was one of the toughest faceoff guys I played last year."

Moreland went just 7-for-27 against Williams, but only 1-for-7 in a 13-10 loss to the Orange on March 14, 2015.

"That was probably my fourth game as a freshman," Moreland said. "So it was just experience having taken a lot more draws at that point in my game. I thought I had grown as a player, and that really made a difference. It was one of the first games on the road for me, playing in the [Carrier] Dome. So I don't think I was as prepared because it was so early in the season."

Moreland, who has won 72.7 percent (24 of 33) of his draws and collected nine ground balls, will team with Madarasz, who after sitting out last season because of a foot injury has claimed 51.1 percent (46 of 90) of his faceoffs and 22 ground balls.

Madarasz said he and Moreland want to win the ball cleanly, but are also comfortable mucking it up if they have to.

"What our goal is and what [associate head] coach [Bill] Dwan has been stressing all year is take the approach of a unit, and what I mean by that is the faceoff guys and the wings are going to do anything we can to make it a three-on-three battle and try to get our wings involved and maybe disrupt his poles," Madarasz said. "He's pretty good at that. Obviously, we're going to go out and try to win every faceoff, but if that's not the case, we're going to try to make it a three-on-three battle and just try to be aggressive."

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CBS Sports Network analyst Steve Panarelli said the faceoff battle will be key because the Blue Jays want to enjoy long possessions on offense and keep the ball from Syracuse.

"It will definitely be one of those things to watch," said Panarelli, a former three-time All-American Orange defenseman. "When you lose that amount of faceoffs, it really puts pressure on you. You almost have to clear perfectly. You can only have maybe one or two turnovers in the clearing game. Offensively, you've got to be patient. You can't have sloppy turnovers. Defensively, you can't have any breakdowns because one or two of them could be the difference. It makes you have to play so much better when you're losing faceoffs at that type of rate."

Williams is familiar with Moreland and has been spending time in the film room studying Madarasz.

"They're both very good faceoff guys," Williams said. "I think they're definitely game-planning hard for us, and they're going to give us their best shot. So we've got to be ready to go, and our faceoff unit has to be ready to earn our wins."

Williams' superiority thus far lends one to believe he will continue his success against Johns Hopkins. But coach Dave Pietramala said the Blue Jays won't cede anything without a fight.

"We're certainly not going to go to the faceoff X and say, 'OK, we're going to lose,'" Pietramala said. "We've never done that. We're going to go in, and we're going to compete. We believe we've got a couple pretty good guys here."

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edward.lee@baltsun.com

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