Virginia rallies, ousts Syracuse NCAA LACROSSE CHAMPIONSHIPS

May 29, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Michael Watson's talent and poise had long ago earned the approval of Dom Starsia, but the Virginia lacrosse coach nonetheless was curious to see how his prized freshman attackman would fare against Syracuse in the NCAA tournament semifinals.

"Sometimes I'm not sure exactly how well Michael has done, because there's not a great pool of defensemen in Division I," Starsia said last week. "Syracuse may have the best group, and I wonder how he'll do against them."

The kid did all right.

Watson put the exclamation point on the Cavaliers' uphill climb yesterday with a goal 2:10 into sudden-death overtime that beat defending champion Syracuse, 15-14.

Fifth-seeded Virginia can win its first NCAA title since 1972 when it meets Princeton in the title game at noon tomorrow at Byrd Stadium.

A record semifinal crowd of 23,728 at Byrd Stadium watched Watson take the ball in an unsettled situation, get Syracuse ace defenseman Ric Beardsley off-balance with a stutter step, shoot over goalie Alex Rosier's right shoulder and then run for cover. Watson dodged the Cavaliers, who wanted to celebrate their first NCAA final in eight years.

"I'm a little claustrophobic, and I didn't want to wind up on the bottom of a pile," Watson said.

Watson, a St. Paul's School product who was The Sun's high school Athlete of the Year for 1992-93 and the Rookie of the Year in the Atlantic Coast Conference this spring, doesn't relate to the questions about Virginia's recent postseason shortcomings. It was that unfulfilling past that made the climb out of 5-1 and 12-7 holes so satisfying for the Cavaliers (13-3) and unsettling for the top-ranked and top-seeded Orangemen (13-2).

"I've never been involved in the NCAA semifinals, and neither have my players," said Starsia, who came to Virginia from Brown two years ago. "We made some mistakes, and we had a couple of opportunities to decide that we couldn't make it, but we kept coming back."

Virginia revived itself by reversing fortunes while down two men and by excelling at Syracuse's own game, transition.

Rosier was the hot goalie to start, and the Orangemen peppered Cavaliers keeper James Ireland for a 5-1 lead after 12 minutes. Virginia rallied late in the second quarter and got within 8-7 four minutes into the third quarter, but Syracuse scored the next four goals.

Tim Whiteley assisted Sean Miller to halt the Syracuse charge, but the Orangemen's bid for a ninth title game in 12 years strengthened when Virginia had two players sent to the penalty box with 13:29 left.

Syracuse took a hasty shot, however, and Ireland's save was quickly converted into a goal by Whiteley. Instead of being down five, it was 12-9, and the Cavaliers were a third of the way into a six-goal run that would give them a 13-12 lead with 10:11 left.

"That play was the back-breaker," said Syracuse's Roy Simmons, who leads the nation's coaches with 244 career victories. "It could have easily been 13-8. You figure with our firepower, we're going to get a good shot, but we didn't."

Whiteley made it 13-12 with 11:13 remaining, but Syracuse held Virginia scoreless for more than 10 minutes and went ahead 14-13 on goals by Robert Kavovit and Paul Sullivan, the latter with 3:31 to go.

Whiteley missed a chance to tie with a minute left, but Matt Crisp disrupted the Syracuse clear, and David Jones got the ball right back to Whiteley. His fifth assist allowed freshman Doug Knight to tie it at 14 with 49 seconds left.

Virginia could not take advantage of an extra-man opportunity at the end of regulation, but Syracuse did the same a minute into overtime, when it put All-Americans Charlie Lockwood, Dom Fin and Roy Colsey on the same midfield.

Ireland won the race to the end line and possession after a Beardsley miss, and Crisp's clear got it to Watson. The Virginia attack hadn't scored a solo goal all game.

"Beardsley likes to talk a lot, and he kept asking me why I wouldn't take him [one-on-one]," Watson said. "That's usually not our style, but the middies weren't down yet, so I gave him the stutter step and took the shot."

Watson's goal gave the Cavaliers one more date on their postseason revenge tour.

In an exhibition last fall, they were "tattooed," in Starsia's words, by Syracuse. A week ago, in the NCAA quarterfinals, they upset North Carolina, which had stopped them in the ACC tournament final. In the ACC semifinals, they routed Duke, which beat them in the regular season.

Virginia's other 1994 loss? It was inflicted by Princeton, its foe in tomorrow's title game.

NCAA LACROSSE

At Byrd Stadium, College Park

SEMIFINALS

Yesterday

* Virginia 15, Syracuse 14, OT* Princeton 10, Brown 7

FINAL

Tomorrow

.` * Virginia vs. Princeton, noon

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