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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Entering Saturday afternoon’s national quarterfinal contest against perennial ACC power Duke, Ohio State had never been to an NCAA Division I Lacrosse Final Four. Behind the play of Walpole native and Xaverian graduate Luke Buckley (two goals), the Buckeyes (15-4) took down the Blue Devils (13-5) by a final of 16-11, advancing to the NCAA Final Four at Gillette Stadium this Memorial Day weekend.
With time winding down late in the first quarter and the game knotted at one, Buckley drove to the cage hard, dodged between two checking Blue Devils, and fired a right-handed shot past the Duke goaltender to reclaim the lead for Ohio State at the end of the first quarter. Buckley’s second of the game came under similar circumstances, as the former Hawk cranked home a shot from 10 yards out with 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter to extend the Buckeye lead to eight at 13-5 entering the final frame of play.
Over the last several years, the Big 10 has become more than just a basketball and football conference. The Big 10 formed its own hockey conference with the addition of Penn State, as well as getting Minnesota and Wisconsin to jump ship from the WCHA, and Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State to come over from the now-deceased CCHA. In 2017-2018, Notre Dame (which just went to the Frozen Four in Chicago) will also be jumping from the Hockey East to the Big 10.
Lacrosse in the Big 10 is no different than hockey in terms of expansion, resulting in success, as the additions of Maryland from the ACC, Rutgers from the Big East, and Johns Hopkins have allowed the conference to form one of, if not the, best leagues in all of collegiate lacrosse. Maryland has always been a powerhouse in the college lacrosse world dating back to their ACC days, so it shouldn’t come to much surprise that the Terps are making their fourth straight trip to championship weekend and their sixth in the last seven years. The successful product of the Big 10’s plan to become a lacrosse conference is seen in the 2017 Ohio State Buckeyes, putting together a program defining win over Duke on Saturday afternoon, reaching the school’s first ever NCAA Final Four in lacrosse, and turning the mood surrounding the program from “close to competing for a championship” to “let’s win now.”
Luke Buckley comes from a town and a high school where winning is a tradition. When Buckley made the decision to commit to Ohio State, newcomers Maryland, Hopkins, and Rutgers had just accepted invitations to the Big 10, and Michigan lacrosse had just made the transition from club to varsity.
Meaning? The quality of future competition within the conference for Ohio State was going to be a lot harder. However, it is no coincidence that following Buckley’s arrival in Columbus, the Buckeyes are making history on the lacrosse field and are now on the verge of making even more this Memorial Day weekend.
It took Ohio State men’s lacrosse 50 years to make the NCAA Tournament (2003). Now, Luke Buckley and the Buckeyes are just two wins away from a national title.
Ohio State will take on Towson in the national semifinals on Saturday afternoon and if victorious, would face the winner of No. 5 Denver and No. 1 Maryland in the National Championship Game on Memorial Day.