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Orange crushed

'Cuse lax out of semifinals for first time in 22 years

Posted: Thursday May 19, 2005 3:36PM; Updated: Thursday May 19, 2005 4:16PM
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Syracuse Lacrosse
The Orange huddle at an early season scrimmage.
Larry French/SI
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The year was 1982. USA Today and the "Newman's Own" products made their debuts, as did E.T and the NCAA women's basketball tournament. The aerobics craze was at its zenith, what with the Olivia Newton-John song Physical and the feel-the-burn success of future Monster-in-Law Jane Fonda's Workout Book. It was not my favorite year, even though it was the year that gave us My Favorite Year.

It's also the last year the Syracuse men's lacrosse team failed to advance to the NCAA final four. That is, until now. Last Saturday, the University of Massachusetts Minutemen defeated the Orange 16-15 in the first round of the NCAAs, ending one of sports' most impressive streaks and leaving the Orange to ponder, for the first time in more than two decades, what to do over Memorial Day weekend.

The end for the defending national champions came with a foreshadowing. On April 30, Syracuse, ranked No. 7 despite a 7-4 record, lost in overtime at No. 8 UMass (10-2), 14-13. The Orange had fought back in the fourth quarter, erasing a 13-8 deficit in the final 12:58 to tie the score. Still, the loss put the Orange at 7-5, its fewest regular-season wins since 1982, when they finished 6-4. It was also the last year SU failed to make the NCAA tourney.

When the tournament pairings were announced on CSTV the following weekend, Syracuse was paired against UMass, again at Garber Field in Amherst. The commentators were looking ahead, though, projecting a compelling second-round meeting between the 'Cuse and No. 1 Johns Hopkins. Then again, who could blame them? The Blue Jays, who beat the Orange earlier this spring in overtime, are the only squad beside Syracuse to have won seven NCAA lax championships.

Who could blame them ... UMass.

"We took it real personal," said Minutemen attacker Sean Morris. "If you saw our 37 faces when they said that, you would've known the outcome right then."

As had happened two weeks earlier, the Orange fought back from a fourth-quarter deficit, this time down 14-11. With 3:06 remaining the Orange's Brett Bucktooth tied the game 15 with a goal, but UMass' Morris scored the game-winner with 1:02 remaining, ending a streak that had begun before most of the lax'ers on the pitch that afternoon had been born.

In the wake of the defeat, numbers fiends began to notice a bizarre coincidence. The streak ended at 22 years. Among Syracuse lacrosse followers, the number 22 is sacrosanct. The number was first donned by then sophomore Gary Gait, the Wayne Gretzky of collegiate lacrosse, in 1988. After Gait (1987-1990) graduated, Charlie Lockwood wore 22. Lockwood (1991-1994) ceded the numeral to the trio of Powell brothers, beginning with Casey (1995-1998) and continuing with Ryan (1997-2000) and Mike (2001-2004).

All five men were four-time All-Americans.

After Mike led Syracuse to its seventh national championship last May, the jersey number was shelved. Not retired, but no one donned it this year for the Orange.

And look what happened:

• Syracuse (7-6) finished with its fewest wins since 1982

• Syracuse lost three games at home inside the Carrier Dome, where it had lost a total of 14 games the previous 24 seasons, since first moving inside in 1981.

• Syracuse failed to make the national semifinals for the first time since 1982.

Even if it is only happenstance, the absence of a 22 on the lax pitch coinciding with the streak ending after 22 seasons is eerie.

"That and $6.99 will get you a 12-pack," says Ric Beardsley, a former Syracuse All-America defender. "It never really crossed my mind. It's a strange coincidence, but it's just that -- a coincidence."