Men’s lacrosse faces host Villanova in Big East tournament semifinal

Photo by Valeria Cardenas/valeria.cardenas@marquette.edu
Photo by Valeria Cardenas/valeria.cardenas@marquette.edu

After being picked to finish last in the Big East this preseason, the Marquette men’s lacrosse team enters the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed.

This is Marquette’s first year in the conference and will be the team’s first tournament appearance. The Golden Eagles will face Villanova in the semifinals tonight while Denver, ranked No. 2 nationally, faces Rutgers.

At 6-9, the only way Marquette can reach the NCAA Tournament is winning the league tournament.

“We are confident we can play with anybody if we play our game,” said Joe Amplo, Big East Coach of the Year.

Despite being the No. 3 seed and technically the away team, Villanova hosts the tournament at its home field in Philadelphia.

The teams met earlier this season in Milwaukee when the Wildcats pulled away midway through the game. Despite a late rally, Marquette was unable to overcome the deficit and fell 10-8.

Even with the Villanova home field advantage, Amplo believes his team is up for the challenge.

“We’ll play on Mars, I don’t really care,” Amplo said Monday. “We have a chance here to extend our season and play against a great institution for the right to play in a championship two days later.”

The Wildcats boast one of the best defensive units in the country. Led by Big East Defensive Player of the Year John LoCascio, who ranks 6th in the country in caused turnovers with 2.29 per game, the defense ranks 3rd in the nation in caused turnovers. LoCascio and fellow defensemen Chris Conroy were named to the all-Big East first team on Tuesday. The third of the defensive trio, Chris Piccirilli, was named to the second team.

Offensively, Marquette needs to rebound from last weekend’s setback against Denver. Scoring nine goals is not a season low, but going nearly 30 minutes without scoring is one of its worst scoring droughts this season. Redshirt senior Tyler Melnyk, All Big East first team selection and leading scorer, and second team redshirt sophomore midfielder Kyle Whitlow need to have big games to keep Marquette alive.

What the Golden Eagles lack in offense, they make up in defense. Sophomore defenseman BJ Grill was a unanimous selection to the all-Big East first team while redshirt sophomore defender Liam Byrnes was named to the second team. They will have to contain the Villanova offense for the full 60 minutes if they want to avoid letting the Wildcats run away with the game again.

“It’s going to be a good game,” Amplo said. “It’s two very similar teams that, at times, play very well and, at times, play very poorly. We’re streaky during our 60-minute games and we’re streaky during our seasons It’s a matter of which team can prepare the best and play as close to 60 minutes as possible.”

If Marquette advances, it will play the winner of the Denver-Rutgers game.

Last weekend against Denver, the squad psyched itself out. Playing one of the top teams in the country is intimidating, but the team must relax and play its hardest if it draws Denver in the final.

Against Rutgers, Marquette led for most of the game. This was not a position the Golden Eagles are used to being in and they nearly let the game slip away from them late. But a Conor Gately goal with 16 seconds remaining sealed the deal and Marquette earned its first Big East win ever.

The Pioneers would be the tougher match-up of the two, but both teams stand in the way of Marquette and the NCAA Tournament.

“Now it’s about winning,” Amplo said. “This is what guys sign up for. They want to win a meaningful game right before May to have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.”

Face-off is set for 6 p.m. as Marquette faces Villanova in the semifinals of the Big East tournament. Denver and Rutgers will face off at 3 p.m. Both semifinal games will be streamed on BigEast.com and Sunday’s championship game will be on Fox Sports 1.