As Ohio State left Baltimore after a 13-10 loss to Johns Hopkins on April 7, it appeared the closest the team would get to the conference men's lacrosse tournament would be watching on the Big Ten Network.
The Buckeyes had lost five straight games and six of seven with a lineup that included eight freshmen.
Tenth-year coach Nick Myers, though, liked the fight in his team that day.
What followed were victories over Michigan, then top-ranked Maryland and Rutgers to vault the Buckeyes (8-6) into a Big Ten semifinal against Johns Hopkins (9-4) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The first semifinal pits Maryland (11-2) against Rutgers (9-5).
“You are getting seniors who are playing with a sense of urgency and attacking every day as if it’s their last,” Myers said. “We made sure to get back to Buckeye lacrosse and fight our way into the Big Ten tournament. We built on that Johns Hopkins loss. We’re getting good goalie play and our faceoff play has really picked up. We’ve got seven or eight freshmen who are really contributing.”
Senior attacker Colin Chell said the winning streak, particularly the Maryland game, has boosted the team’s confidence.
“We thought after we beat Maryland that we could beat anyone in the country,” he said. “We’re chasing a Big Ten championship and I think we’re ready to go. No team in the country wants to play us because we’re in full stride. I love this rematch with Hopkins. We’re looking for some revenge.”
Only 16 teams make the NCAA Tournament, and the feeling is that Ohio State can get a bid by making it to the conference championship game on Saturday night.
The Big Ten is highly respected with Maryland being ranked second, Johns Hopkins seventh, Rutgers 11th and Ohio State 13th.
“There is a lot of noise going around, but I think our body of work right now is strong as it stands today,” Myers said. “We’ve played a great schedule and have as good a win as anybody over Maryland. We’ve beaten Rutgers. Our conference is tough — as tough as there is. But we don’t talk much about (the NCAAs). We want to win the Big Ten tournament.”
The Buckeyes struggle to score, averaging only 9.2 goals, but freshman faceoff specialist Justin Inacio and goalkeepers Matthew Smidt and Josh Kirson have picked up their games.
Inacio, who was voted the Big Ten freshman of the year, won 10 of 14 faceoffs against Michigan, 17 of 26 against Maryland and 18 of 21 against Rutgers. His save percentage is 60.1 overall and 68.6 in the Big Ten.
Senior captain and midfielder John Kelly said the freshmen have listened well.
“Buckeye lacrosse never changes — we live by our blueprint,” Kelly said. “We had to get these guys adjusted and on board about who we are. Once we got that righted, we’ve been moving forward. Our backs have been against the wall and we’ve responded.”