Syracuse comes up empty as final site

The Inside Stuff

May 28, 1991|By Bill Tanton

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- There was only one thing wrong with the NCAA lacrosse Final Four.

Oh, the best team in the country -- North Carolina -- won.

The Tar Heels beat Towson State in the title game here yesterday, 18-13. Carolina, which was seeded No. 1 in the 12-team tournament, thereby finishes the season with a record of 16-0 and the school's first national championship since 1986 when Baltimorean Gary Seivold scored in overtime and beat Virginia in the title game at Delaware.

This year the Heels beat everybody all year long and in the semifinals they beat Syracuse, winner of the last three NCAA Division I championships -- in their own dome.

The new king eliminated the old king. No complaint. Carolina is a better team than Syracuse.

As for Towson State, a team that had only once before, in 1989, played in the NCAA tournament and been eliminated in the first round at North Carolina, what can you say?

Towson, seeded No. 11, had to go on the road for every one of its games in this tourney.

The Tigers won at Virginia. They won at Princeton, which was seeded No. 3. They won Saturday over Maryland here in the Carrier Dome.

And yesterday they came closer to winning the national championship than the final score would indicate.

Trailing 11-4 at halftime, Towson -- against the best defense in the country -- exploded. Coach Carl Runk's team scored five straight goals and suddenly it was 11-9. Then they scored three of the next five as a goal by Doug Sharretts made it 13-12 in the middle of the fourth period.

That was the high water mark for Towson and it was obvious what was happening as favored Carolina turned it up a notch and went on to win by five.

"The Towson kids played their hearts out," said Loyola College coach Dave Cottle. "You have to give them all the credit in the world for that comeback.

"But when a team does that it can spend itself. Even though Towson dominated that third period, North Carolina kept playing. It wasn't a case of their letting up. Towson just gave it such a great effort."

The one thing that mars this year's tournament is the crowd for the championship game -- 8,293.

That was an embarrassment for the ultimate game of the season.

"We had more people than that," said Johns Hopkins coach Tony Seaman, "for our quarterfinal game with Syracuse. We had 11,000."

Lacrosse has grown a lot in recent years. In large part it grew because two brilliant, charismatic players, Canadian twins Gary and Paul Gait, led Syracuse to three straight national championships from 1988 through '90.

The Gaits are to lacrosse what Michael Jordan is to basketball. During their years with the Orange, Final Four crowds grew to upward of 25,000.

If Towson State and North Carolina had played yesterday at Delaware, for instance, there would have been 16,000 to 20,000 people in attendance.

"Anywhere from Maryland to Rutgers would be fine as a site," said Seaman.

That's where the semifinals and finals will be played next year, at the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field in Philadelphia May 23 and 25.

Geographically, Philly is fine. Though parking may be difficult, Penn people are already spreading the word that train travel to and fro the site is practical. Franklin Field is walkable from 30th Street Station.

In 1993, the Final Four goes back to College Park, again a practical site, where you can expect 20,000-plus to attend.

The hard truth is that the Final Four should not be played at Syracuse unless Syracuse University is in the game, and there is no guarantee, ever, that any team will be in it.

"I hope they never play the game in Syracuse again," said Towson State's brilliant defensive star, Steve Kisslinger. "Not only was the crowd disappointing; it's too hot in that Carrier Dome. My legs were like rubber."

People wonder about Baltimore, which still is a hotbed of lacrosse, but Hopkins, with the largest stadium in town, cannot accommodate more than 11,000.

Tony Seaman is right. Play it at Penn, at Delaware, at Princeton or Rutgers. Fine.

But not at Syracuse, which is a six-hour drive from Baltimore.

That's the only negative in a Final Four that saw North Carolina complete a perfect season.

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