The No. 22 Ohio State men’s lacrosse team lost its final game as a member of the Eastern College Athletic Conference.
The Buckeyes (6-8, 3-1) fell 14-7 at the hands of Air Force in the first round of the league tournament Thursday.
The Buckeyes faced the service academy for the second time in three games — the last contest resulted in an 8-6 OSU victory April 19 in Columbus — but the Falcons’ potent offense overpowered the home team this time.
The game was the second of two ECAC Tournament semifinal games that took place at Jesse Owens Memorial Field Thursday.
The Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines both saw their seasons end on the same evening after the top-seed No. 16 Fairfield Stags defeated Michigan, 12-5, in the first tourney semifinal game.
Captain and senior defenseman Joe Meurer expressed mixed feelings after the game, addressing the defeat but also the season as a whole.
“We had this great opportunity at home to capitalize, you know, we kind of squandered it,” Meurer said. “But I think we can take a lot of positives out of this year. And, you know, they (OSU) have got a great team for next year and I’m looking forward to watching them.”
Air Force struck first 45 seconds into the game and dominated the time-of-possession battle during the first five minutes of play, keeping OSU on defense.
The Falcons also won five straight faceoffs to open the game and took 10 of 12 during the first half.
Coach Nick Myers said the Buckeyes coming up short in the faceoff battle was a big determinant of why they came up short in the game. He said he strategically opted to get fresh looks at center field to try and spark something when freshman midfielder Jake Withers was struggling early.
“You know, it’s a big part of the game. Air Force executed the faceoff and ultimately had a lot of possession time because of it,” Myers said. “Jake’s a freshman who’s done a great job all year for us. You know, some nights just aren’t your night. He was having a hard time getting a good piece of the ball so we went to a second or third option to see if we could make it a little bit more of a, at least a 50-50.”
In a tight first quarter, OSU settled in and capitalized on opportunities made available to it.
Perhaps an unlikely candidate in sophomore defenseman Robby Haus was the one to finally establish some offensive momentum for the Buckeyes.
By scooping a ground ball in transition and sending a shot on goal at Air Force goalkeeper Brett Dadiego, Haus seemed to focus his team, as junior midfielder Jesse King converted moments later after a Falcons turnover.
Senior midfielder Michael Italiano generated another turnover soon after and scored quickly to give the Buckeyes the 2-1 lead.
Air Force enjoyed two more stints of dominance, however, by holding OSU scoreless for 12 minutes twice, once during the second quarter and again in the third.
The third quarter is what proved to be the real dagger for OSU, though, as the Falcons scored five goals during the Buckeye scoring drought.
“Hats off to them, they had a great game. Their attack was planned well. Crampton, I know, had a great game,” senior goalie Scott Spencer said, referencing Air Force senior attackman and ECAC Offensive Player of the Year Mike Crampton’s five-goal game.
“Going into the fourth quarter, (we were) just trying to continue to stay the course and try to pull up stops, get a stop and kind of move the ball back to the offense. That’s really the only thing we were focusing on,” Spencer said.
Meurer said this Air Force team looked different to the one OSU faced April 19 – when the Buckeyes won, 8-6.
“At the beginning of the game, they were running a new set and I think it took us a little bit too long to adjust, you know, we weren’t establishing a hot guy quick enough. It definitely hurt us at the beginning there,” Meurer said. “I think we eventually adjusted to it but they played faster than us on the offensive end. Give them credit.”
On the game, Air Force outgunned OSU in almost every statistical category, as they took more shots on goal, made more saves in goal and procured more ground balls.
Perhaps most importantly of all, though, Air Force scored twice out of three extra-man opportunities while OSU came up 0-4.
King finished the game with a hat trick and Falcon junior attackman Keith Dreyer scored one goal and tallied four assists.
With the loss, the Buckeyes miss an opportunity to compete in Saturday’s championship game to try to secure a return trip to the NCAA tournament. OSU lost in the quarterfinals of the 2013 tournament to Cornell.
OSU is set to compete alongside Michigan again next year, as 2015 marks the Big Ten’s inaugural year of sponsoring lacrosse.
Correction: A prior version of this story stated OSU’s men’s lacrosse team is a member of the East Coast Athletic Conference. In fact, the team is a member of the Eastern College Athletic Conference.