Billy Ward’s personal celebration was cut short.
Just after he scored a game-winning goal — one he later admitted he didn’t see once it left his stick — Ward was bear-hugged by Randy Staats and then the entire Syracuse bench.
The team poured onto the field in the seconds following Ward’s goal. Bobby Wardwell sprinted 80 yards from the Syracuse goal to the dog pile. The Carrier Dome erupted.
And Ward was under it all, laying on the same field that the Orange limped off after losing to Maryland to start an 0-3 stretch to start its first crack at Atlantic Coast Conference play.
It’s a start that was erased when Ward’s shot whizzed past North Carolina’s Kieran Burke and into the back of the net, and is now only a small stain, if that, on the Orange’s salvaged season.
“It’s kind of a blur, to be honest,” Ward said. “You see the net move and you’re kind of like, ‘What just happened?’ And then the next thing you know, you’re getting tackled by a bunch of guys.”
Ward’s third goal of the day capped an 11-10 victory for No. 7 Syracuse (8-3, 2-3 Atlantic Coast) over the No. 4 Tar Heels (9-3, 2-3). Despite starting conference play 0-3, Ward’s goal officially booked Syracuse’s ticket to the conference tournament in Chester, Pa., the weekend of April 26.
“The overtimes, the back and forth, the goalie saves, just a great game for college lacrosse,” Syracuse head coach John Desko said. “I think for Syracuse University, a great win here in the Carrier Dome.”
After scoring, Ward was at the center of Syracuse’s celebratory dog pile at the 25-yard line.
But for SU’s Nicky Galasso, what was more important was when Ward took center stage inside the Syracuse locker room at halftime. With the Orange trailing 6-3 through 30 minutes, it was Ward who sparked his team with a passionate locker room speech.
“You know, after Duke, everyone started questioning our heart,” Ward said. “I told everyone, this team has more heart than any team I’ve been on. It’s just a matter of doing the little things right. And we’ve been practicing like that.
“I just said, ‘Let’s be us and let’s be great.’ And that’s what happened.”
“He threw a couple more adjectives in there,” Desko joked before exiting the postgame press conference. “But we won’t talk about that.”
With a gauntlet of a schedule this season, facing eight top-10 ranked teams – in addition to ranked St. John’s and a strong Binghamton team – Syracuse fought its way into the conference tournament after having the slimmest of odds.
But in a span of a week, Virginia lost to UNC, the Orange beat No. 6 Cornell, and Virginia lost to Duke – setting up an ultimate ACC tournament play-in game between SU and UNC.
That fate was on the stick of Staats’ midway through the second overtime. Staats dodged down the right side of the SU attack, and when a double team came, found Ward in the middle of the field.
“I just let it fly,” Ward said.
While Kevin Rice led the Orange with six points on three goals and three assists, Ward tallied four points – including the game-winner. He also scored two critical goals in the first quarter that cut a 4-1 deficit to 4-3.
It was a constant theme throughout the day – Syracuse fighting to stay in the game.
“We were just making smart dodges,” Galasso said. “We played a good team game and we just got to keep that going.”
SU midfielder Scott Loy put a shot through Burke’s legs with 11 seconds left in the quarter to tie the score at seven heading into the fourth quarter.
Galasso scored a goal with 7:47 left in the fourth quarter, giving the Orange a 9-8 lead, its first of the game. But two minutes later, UNC’s Chad Tutton bounced a shot by Wardwell to tie the game at nine.
Trailing 10-9 with 8.4 seconds left in regulation, Rice scored from six yards out to force overtime, which eventually set up Ward’s game winner in double OT.
Now, the Orange’s seeding depends on the April 19 matchup between Maryland and Notre Dame. If Notre Dame wins, the Orange will be the No. 3 seed. Either way, the Orange will play Duke in the first round of the tournament.
Although Syracuse lost to Duke 21-7 on March 23, postseason play means a clean sheet. The only thing Syracuse cares about is that, in its first year in the ACC, its heading to the conference playoffs.
“Don’t get me wrong, this win feels good,” Ward said. “But our next opponent, Hobart, is just as important as this one is. We can’t slip up next week. Just luckily, with this win today, we’re in the ACC tournament.”
Published on April 12, 2014 at 8:46 pm