When you play the word-association game on the Ohio State campus and say “Final Four,” the usual response is either ‘BCS Bowl” or “March Madness.” Now you can add “Memorial Day Weekend.”
For the first time in school history, the No. 3-seeded Buckeyes reached the showcase event of men’s lacrosse, defeating Duke, 16-11, Saturday in a NCAA Division I quarterfinal played before a Blue Devil-worshipping crowd of 10,117 at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.
“It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” said Ohio State senior attack Eric Fannell, a native of Canada who scored five goals with two assists. “Coming to Ohio State, I never expected anything less. It’s just the feeling of a lifetime to be part of this, and I don’t expect it to end without making some more history.”
The Buckeyes (15-4) will face the winner of Sunday’s Syracuse-Towson game in the semifinals on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Duke, coached by former Hofstra coach John Danowski, finished 13-5 and got strong contributions from Long Islanders Jack Bruckner (Belle Terre/Ward Melville), who had three goals and an assist, Justin Guterding (Garden City), who scored two goals with two assists and Sean Cerrone (Huntington/Chaminade) who had a goal and two assists.
But the Blue Devils never recovered from Ohio State’s 7-3 second-quarter advantage that produced a 9-4 halftime lead. “We were really ready to play. You sensed that from the first whistle,” Buckeyes coach Nick Myers said. “We were aggressive in all facets of the game.”
Ohio State took advantage of its strong, powerful front line to score nearly all of its goals from near the crease. Fannell is 6-1, 220. Johnny Pearson (two goals, one assist) is 6-4, 195. Lukas Buckley (two goals) is 6-1, 185. And 5-7, 155-pound Jack Jasinski, from lacrosse lightweight Alabama, also was a force with two goals and two assists.
“They won the individual battles,” Danowski said. “I don’t know that we had the ball a lot. We lost seven faceoffs in a row at the end of the second quarter. We haven’t given up seven goals all year in a quarter since Denver in the fourth quarter [a 14-9 loss on Feb. 18]. We were on our heels a little bit. In these games, kids have to make plays and they made a lot of them.”
Especially in that decisive second quarter. Fannell scored twice in 50 seconds early in the period to make it 4-1 and the Buckeyes finished the half with a flourish, scoring three straight goals — by Freddy Freibott, Tre Leclaire and J.T. Blubaugh. Ohio State entered the final quarter with a 13-5 lead thanks to two more goals by Fannell in the third.
School history was 15 minutes away. “This was a hurdle we’ve never gotten over,” said Myers, in his 15th year at the school and ninth as head coach. “There’s being on a ride and being on a mission. The team has been committed to the mission.”
Consider it mission accomplished . . . but not completed.