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Marquette Men’s Lacrosse Comes Up Short In Big East Semifinals Upset Bid Against Denver

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Turns out that there wasn’t any Devil Magic to be used against the Pioneers this season.

Jack Zerillo
Jack Zerillo had two goals and an assist against the Pioneers.
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For the first time in three straight tries, Marquette was unable to find a way to beat Denver in the Big East tournament.

The Golden Eagles put up a valiant effort on Thursday afternoon, giving the top seeded Pioneers everything that they could handle. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough, and MU ended up taking a 10-7 loss to Denver in the Big East semifinals. That brings Marquette’s season to an end with a record of 6-8.

It was close, though. It’s not unfair to say that this was the least successful of the three teams that tangled with Denver in the Big East tournament in the past three seasons. The records speak for themselves. And yet, Marquette found themselves right in the thick of things all game long against the Pioneers, who came into this game ranked #3 in the most recent media top 20 poll.

Okay, yes, in fairness, the first quarter didn’t look that way, as Denver was up 4-1 after 15 minutes. Goals from John Wagner and Anthony Orsini in the second quarter helped trim that margin to just two goals at halftime, though, and you’re never going to complain about trailing the #3 team in the country 5-3 at the break.

Marquette was set to head into the fourth quarter down two at 6-4, but a shot taken a little too early and a last second transition lapse led to a breakaway goal by Danny Logan, and it was 7-4. Austin French scored his fourth goal of the game a minute into the final period, and Denver was up 8-4. Seemed like MU had finally been broken.

Except.

Jack Zerillo used a Denver defender as a screen and blasted a crafty shot past DU goalie Josh Matte. 8-5, 11:14 left.

Denver took concurrent 30 second penalties, giving MU a 6-on-4 opportunity, and then it was just a matter of passing the ball fast enough to make the defenders move too much. Anthony Orsini, from Zerillo. 8-6, 8:01 remaining.

Dylan Johnson, one of the chaps that picked up a 30 second penalty got snagged for unnecessary roughness (the referee literally shouted “THAT WAS NOT A GOOD PLAY” at the Denver bench whilst informing the scorer’s table of the foul), and that gave MU a full 60 seconds of extra man time. With the clock winding down, John Wagner took on some heavy contact and went behind the back. 8-7, 5:16 remaining.

For me, the impressive part isn’t that he got that shot on goal in a spot where Matte couldn’t stop it. The impressive part is that Wagner got that shot off without clacking the Denver defender in the head. Sure, it wouldn’t have been a foul, but it would have interfered with Wagner’s aim.

Five minutes to go, down one. As Providence will be happy to tell you, that’s way too much time and space to give the Golden Eagles. It looked like the Big East Tournament Devil Magic was going to get the Pioneers for a third straight time, or at the very least, there was going to be a fascinating finish.

Trevor Baptiste won the ensuing faceoff for Denver, though, tying the NCAA record for faceoff wins in a career, and less than a minute after Wagner’s goal, Ethan Walker busted through for his second goal of the game. As much as the three straight Marquette goals had given the Golden Eagles life and hope, Walker’s goal effectively busted the balloon. MU would get the ball out of the faceoff, but a turnover sent it back to Denver, allowing them to burn clock until the referees turned the stall clock on. By the time Cole Blazer made his ninth save of the game with 93 seconds left, Marquette wasn’t going to have enough time, even if they had managed to clear the ball. They didn’t, though, and French capped things off with a late goal with Blazer out of the net.

On some level, just getting to the Big East tournament was a success for this year’s particular Marquette team. They came in woefully inexperienced on offense, and things went from bad to worse when the team began to struggle to put the same crew of guys out of the field game after game. The only thing worse than being inexperienced is being unable to let those inexperienced guys grow together, and the injury bug ended up handing that problem to the Golden Eagles, too. Still, five of Marquette’s six wins this season get filed as some of the scrappiest never-say-die performances that you’ll ever see, and all that experience in close games almost paid off on Thursday against a very good Denver squad.

With the season over, we have to say THANK YOU to Marquette’s seniors: Cole Blazer, Teddy Goltzman, Jordan McKenzie, Zachary Melillo, Colin Riehl, and Owen Weselak. These guys have been a part of the first two NCAA tournament teams in Marquette men’s lacrosse history. They’ve been a part of one of the more surprising stories in NCAA lacrosse in the 21st Century, and without their work day in and day out, that wouldn’t have been possible. Sure, this isn’t a senior class laden with mega-stars and iconic names in program history. But when you’re building something new, something exciting, something special, it takes dedication and perseverance from every person on the roster to get where you want to be. For that, we thank each one of these six guys for everything that they’ve put in to Marquette lacrosse during their time in Milwaukee, and wish them nothing but the best in the future.