Missed opportunities keep No. 5 UF lacrosse from upsetting No. 1

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Florida freshman Eddy Shoop takes the ball back during Saturday's game against Maryland at Dizney Stadium. [Jessica Rodriguez/Correspondent]

The first 90 seconds of the Florida lacrosse team’s bout with No. 1 Maryland was an encouraging one for the home team.

But the ensuing action was full of questionable and frustrating moments, along with a decisive momentum swing in the second period, for UF coach Amanda O’Leary and the No. 5 Gators.

Florida led early against the Terrapins but fell 16-14 to the defending national champion Saturday at Donald R. Dizney Stadium, leaving O’Leary and the Gators lamenting the lack of capitalized opportunities — both in and out of their control — that hindered any chance Florida had of defeating a program that had lost just once since May 2, 2015.

“We have to do a better job of just playing the game,” O’Leary said. “I think the referees, they’re going to come and go. We need to be better at executing the details. So we don’t even address the officiating situation. It is what it is, and we just need to be better.”

Junior midfielder Sydney Pirreca wasted little time attacking the Maryland (2-0) backline, controlling the first draw and weaving through the Terrapins defense to put Florida on the scoreboard just 11 seconds into the match. Freshman Shannon Kavanagh made it 2-0 soon after on a free-position shot, drawing enthused cheers from the crowd.

But the momentum would swing in favor of Maryland, thanks in part to a four-goal first period from the Terrapins’ Jen Giles. Despite the best efforts of a seemingly whistle-prone officiating crew, the Gators (1-1) entered the halftime break trailing just 10-8, with Pirreca and her older sister Shayna accounting for more than half of Florida’s strikes.

Minutes into the second half, the Gators appeared to pull within 11-10 on a strike by Shayna Pirreca, but the officiating crew waved Pirreca over to the sidelines and ruled that her stick was illegal. The goal was disallowed, leaving O’Leary and the Gators stunned on the sidelines and lamenting a missed opportunity that eventually was critical to Florida’s comeback efforts.

“The pocket depth (of the stick) was too deep,” O’Leary revealed. “I think, again, we’re all about attention to detail at this point.”

From there, Florida looked visibly drained, struggling to regain momentum, and the Terrapins capitalized. A six-goal swing put Maryland in front 16-9 despite a 14-save effort from goalkeeper Haley Hicklen, with Florida playing 11-on-10 for much of the second half due to a series of infractions.

“When nothing’s going your way,” Sydney Pirreca said, “it’s really hard to stay positive.”

Florida had one final comeback attempt remaining, however. Five unanswered goals from the Gators put a dent into the Maryland lead in the final 10 minutes, but the Terrapins drained the game clock to secure the win.

“If we had more time, we would have been up there,” Pirreca said. “But it’s only game two, and we’re coming that close, and we have a long way to go.”

To add insult to injury, Florida had an impressive streak snapped: coming into the game, the Gators were 102-0 in games when the team scored at least 14 goals.

The Gators will be back in action Feb. 25 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium when the team hosts No. 25 Loyola at 12 p.m.

“To be within two goals of this team, I think was fantastic, even despite the mistakes that we made,” O’Leary said. “Looking forward to playing Loyola, any time we can play a ranked opponent it’s great for us, and I think this was certainly a good start for that season of where we have to step up for every game. Because we’re going to see a lot of ranked teams in our non-conference schedule.”