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Just 17 minutes into the first game, Pittsburgh had already committed 13 fouls against Syracuse. Five of them resulted in free-position shot opportunities for the Orange, a team that entered ranked 16th in the nation on free-position conversion rate.
After Emily Coughlin committed a foul just over 90 seconds into the second quarter, Sam Swart lined up at the top of the 8-meter for a free-position shot to cut the deficit to one, with Syracuse trailing 4-2.
Rather than shooting immediately, Swart elected to dodge straight toward Panther goalkeeper Paulina DiFatta for a much more high-percentage look. But as she approached the cage, multiple Pittsburgh defenders began to cave in on Swart, causing her to tumble to the ground as she took the shot. The shot had no power behind it and bounced right into DiFatta’s stick, and the Panthers successfully cleared.
At that point, out of the five awarded free-position shots for Syracuse, none of them found the back of the net. Ultimately, the missed opportunities didn’t drastically affect No. 4 Syracuse (10-2, 5-0 Atlantic Coast) as it handed Pittsburgh (6-7, 0-6 ACC) its sixth conference loss of the season 18-6.
Though SU closed the game out on a 16-2 run throughout the final three quarters, it finished 3-of-8 on the free position. Had it converted the easy opportunities early on, the Orange would have led much earlier in the game. It did improve in the second half, though, going 2-for-2 when its large lead was already established.
“I think it just reflected how we were playing overall,” head coach Kayla Treanor said of the missed opportunities in the first half. “We were really timid, and we weren’t in a flow.”
In the first half, Syracuse scored just once on six attempts, with that goal coming from Emma Tyrrell. Emma Tyrrell dodged toward goal from the left side of the 8-meter, eventually cutting to the center in front of the cage. She slipped the ball past DiFatta to end the scoreless free position drought.
The Orange’s first scoring opportunity came from the free position when Pitt’s Allyson Trice committed the Panthers’ first foul of the game. Savannah Sweitzer lined up at the top of the 8-meter and decided to shoot immediately, hinted by the winding of her stick prior to the resuming of play. Savannah shot toward the lower right side of DiFatta, who kicked-saved the shot. Syracuse regained possession after Emma Tyrrell secured the ground ball, but DiFatta saved SU’s shot at the end of the possession.
Midway through the first quarter, Savannah received another free-position chance but elected to dump it off once play resumed to a more reliable option in Emily Hawryschuk, who became the fifth player in program history to reach 300 career points on Saturday and leads the team in free-position goals. But on this shot, Hawryschuk had her shot deflected, which forced it wide.
Later in the quarter, Swart earned another opportunity as the Panthers were called for a three-second violation for camping out in the 8-meter. This time, the shot wasn’t even on target and didn’t require much work from DiFatta.
And on the final opportunity from the free position in the first half, Meaghan Tyrrell lined up along the right side. Similar to her younger sister, Meaghan Tyrrell dodged toward the goal, but her shot went a little high and left and hit the left post, bouncing away from the goal as SU finished the first half 1-of-6.
“When you get up to the (free-position) line and you’re playing like that, you feel a lot of pressure like you need to score,” Treanor said. “As the game went on, the offense got more into the game (and) definitely were improving on their chemistry, finishing opportunities.”
But in the second half, Syracuse improved by scoring on both of its free-position chances. Despite the fewer opportunities, Syracuse was able to generate many goals in the run of play without Pitt’s fouls as the Panthers only committed 13 in the second half compared to 16 in the first.
About a minute and a half into the third quarter, Savannah, in a similar shooting style, redeemed her saved shot in the first by rifling a low-rolling shot into the back of the net after the Panthers were called for a shooting space violation. Jalyn Jimerson scored the other by winding up a shot from the left side of the 8-meter that snuck past DiFatta, which improved SU’s conversion rate to 37.5%, 12% lower than its season average of nearly 50%.
Though the free position didn’t play a significant factor in Saturday’s game against the unranked Panthers, Syracuse will need to capitalize on these shots with championship-caliber teams such as North Carolina and Boston College remaining on the schedule.
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