The No. 17 Syracuse Orange (5-4) picked up a win Saturday against the No. 11 Princeton Tigers (6-3) in front of a home crowd at the Carrier Dome. The Orange scored 4 unanswered goals during a decisive third quarter to win its first game in over two weeks.
"It was a very good win for us," coach John Desko said. "We're gonna enjoy it for the next ten minutes here and then get ready for the (Cornell) Big Red on Tuesday."
The win marked an end to Syracuse's two-game losing streak and a new face was in net for the Orange. Freshman Bobby Wardwell got his first NCAA start between the pipes. After losses in the past couple games, coach Desko and the rest of the coaching staff thought it would be a good time to try out the two-time U.S. Lacrosse All-American.
"It was exciting," Wardwell said. "I was a little rattled after they hit the first couple pipes but the rest of the team kind of calmed me down and I got back into it."
Wardwell gave up three consecutive goals to start the game. It was expected that Wardwell would get off to a slow start since he hadn't seen any time during a game this year. But after the opening three tallies, he only gave up six for the rest of the game.
"Bobby has got a hard head on his shoulders," team captain Brian Megill said. "He kind of lets things go right away and that's a real testament to him being a freshman and all."
Wardwell finished the day with nine saves and established himself as a serious contender for the starting position. Coach Desko wouldn't give a definite answer after the game, but he said Wardwell would likely start on Tuesday against Cornell.
The Syracuse defense was probably the strongest asset for the team today, but not at first. Coach Desko decided to make the switch to a zone defense and it benefited the Orange greatly.
"We got off to what I thought was a slow start, they got off to a quick start and we decided to jump into a zone defense to slow them down and let our defense get comfortable in the game," Desko said. "I think as the game went on and we started to win a couple face-offs our defense got more comfortable and we played better as the game went on."
The defense forced Princeton to turn the ball over 19 times. The Orange turned the ball over just 8 times and played a clean game. That is a refreshing change from previous games this season.
Face-offs have been a problem all year, but today, Chris Daddio stepped up in a much-needed way. Ricky Buhr, who started at the X, struggled a bit, grabbing just 4-of-12. But Daddio came in and picked up 7-of-11, giving Syracuse the face-off advantage over Princeton. It obviously contributed to the huge third quarter run the Orange had. Syracuse picked up 5-of-8 face-offs during that period.
Last week against Duke, Tommy Palasek tied his career best with 4 goals scored and set his season best with 5 points. He did the same today. Palasek scored 4 goals and appeared to be unstoppable. Two of those goals came in a slow second quarter for the Orange. The most important one came with 4:11 left in the game when Tim Desko found him in transition for the go ahead goal to seal the victory. Palasek also threaded the needle to find Derek Maltz for the first Syracuse goal of the game, ending the Orange drought. Palasek got hot when his team needed him to.
"Tommy really has been playing well for us in a number of different ways the last few games," Desko said. "I think he started out a little bit slow. I think his understanding of what his role is and what he can do has gotten better."
The win today was huge for the team's momentum. After two straight losses, the team seemed to be headed towards a 2007-like season, when the Orange didn't make the NCAA tournament. But the game today might have been just what the Orange needed to turn the year around.
"Were trying to use the concept that every game is a National Championship game for us," Megill said. "We come out, giving it everything we got. Head, heart, hustle for sixty-minutes."