Tanner Thomson knocked in a trio of goals for the Golden Eagles on Saturday, and Ryan McNamara added two to become Marquette's first ever 40 goal scorer, but it wasn't enough as North Carolina defeated #6 seeded Marquette, 10-9, in the first round of the 2016 NCAA men's lacrosse tournament on Saturday.
You'll hear a lot of nonsense about how Marquette "proved" that they belonged and "showed how they deserved" their #6 seed in the NCAA tournament after this. This is a load of crap. The Golden Eagles didn't need to prove anything here after dumping the defending national champions a week ago to win the Big East conference tournament. This was the only game of Saturday's group of four contests that was worth a damn for the full 60 minutes, but you're not going to hear anything about how Air Force, Duke, or Johns Hopkins didn't deserve to get into the tournament.
The fact of the matter is that Marquette has spent a majority of the past two seasons ranked in the top 20 of the national polls. Were it not for that odd loss at Bellarmine a year ago, MU would have been in the 2015 NCAA tournament. This is not a "Little Engine That Could" moment, this is an announcement that the Golden Eagles are a force that will be reckoned with again and again in the future.
After a tightly contested game that featured four ties in the first three quarters, it looked like North Carolina was going to slowly pull away from the Golden Eagles when Chris Cloutier scored a man-up goal with 10:46 left in the game to give the Tar Heels a 10-7 lead. That was the biggest lead of the game going in either direction, but it only lasted three minutes before Thomson scored his third of the game by charging the net and flipping home a feed from Conor Gately. That made it a two goal game, but when Marquette coughed it up quickly on a UNC penalty, it seemed like they had wasted their perfect opportunity to cut it to just one and make a push.
UNC burned off the rest of Jack Rowlett's slashing penalty, and then let the stall warning clock expire..... except instead of just dropping the ball where he stood, Ryan Macri tossed it into the corner and got hooked up with a delay of game penalty. It took McNamara just thirteen seconds to make it a 10-9 game, and then Zachary Melillo won his sixth faceoff of the second half to give the Golden Eagles a chance to tie it up with 56 seconds left in regulation.
The Golden Eagles got victimized by a terrible bounce when Blaine Fleming's late game shot missed the cage and hit Thomson in the foot. Had it missed Thomson, it would have gone out of bounds and given MU one final chance to win. Instead, it stayed inbounds and UNC goalie Brian Balkam scooped it up to end the game.
I'd give you some highlights here, but it seems that the UNC website is only concerned with the good plays by the Tar Heels, and that's not really what you're here for, is it? Instead, how about Marquette's postgame press conference with head coach Joe Amplo and senior defenseman B.J. Grill, courtesy of GoMarquette.com?
The loss in the NCAA tournament means the 2016 season is over, of course. That means that Marquette's 14 seniors - Brian Porter, Conor Gately, Zach Barr, Anthony Ciammaichella, Michael Clemente, Matt Barone, Jacob Richard, Matthew Smith, Brett Hornung, Phil McFarland, Blaine Fleming, Henry Nelson, Salvatore Vitale, and Gryphin Kelly - have all seen their collegiate careers come to an end. It also means the end of the college playing days for Marquette's five redshirt seniors: Liam Byrnes, B.J. Grill, Tyler Gilligan, Dan Mojica, and Kyle Whitlow. Those five guys have been with Marquette lacrosse since day one waaaaaaaaay back in the fall of 2011. All 19 of these guys, the biggest senior class in the country, have essentially invented Marquette lacrosse from scratch. Obviously some credit must go to Coach Amplo and his staff, but without the dedication and devotion from these seniors to fight through the doldrums of that first redshirt year where they weren't playing any games, and keep on going through the rough patches of being a first year program that was just learning how to get on and off the bus, Marquette wouldn't have gotten to this point in just the fourth year of the program's playing days.
We have to give a very, very big THANK YOU to all 19 of those guys to everything that they've done to get this program to this point. It's been one hell of a ride thanks to you guys, and because of the foundation that you've built, things are only going to get better from here.