For Ohio State men’s lacrosse, success Sunday was found on the ground and in the crease.
In their Big Ten opener, the No. 19 Buckeyes won the ground ball battle 29-23, while senior goaltender Skylar Wahlund notched his career-high save percentage leading to an 11-7 win over No. 6 Rutgers in Ohio State Lacrosse Stadium’s first-ever conference matchup.
The win was the first against a top-10 opponent for Ohio State (5-4, 1-0 Big Ten) and snapped the Scarlet Knights’ (7-2, 0-1 Big Ten) five-game win streak.
“Historic night,” head coach Nick Myers said. “Getting our first Big Ten win in the new stadium, the first chance we got. Sunday night game, sold-out crowd. These are the nights that you dreamt about.”
The last five meetings between Ohio State and Rutgers belonged to the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers led the all-time series 13-4.
Sophomore defenseman Bobby Van Buren said the key was connectivity.
“This week it was just an emphasis on communication, staying connected,” Van Buren said. “The last few weeks we’ve been playing hard, but we haven’t been putting in the extra effort to communicate.”
With just two minutes off the clock, freshman midfielder Dillon Magee put Ohio State on the board first, scoring his ninth-career goal.
Magee’s goal was quickly matched by Rutgers’ senior attackman Eric Civetti, but senior attackman Mitchell Pehlke reclaimed the Buckeye lead, hitting the back of the net after sophomore faceoff specialist Matthew Fritz’s ground-ball pickup.
The final Scarlet Knights first-quarter goal came with 6:25 to play, courtesy of sophomore attackman Dante Kulas, who leads Rutgers in goals with 23, but Ohio State senior attackman Colby Smith quickly responded with two of his own.
“Colby is a shooter,” Myers said. “He’s been battling injuries, and he’s been starting to get a little bit healthier and in the lineup.”
Smith has been a key piece of the lineup after missing the first four games of the season with an injury, scoring eight goals over the last two games.
Three more Buckeye goals came in the second quarter, and the defense shut out Rutgers until the second half, claiming eight ground balls, with Wahlund going 3-for-3 in the crease.
“Coming out of half-time was just, ‘Stay in it,’” Van Buren said. “This season we’ve had a lot of bad third quarters and for us, we just had to keep doing what we’re doing, don’t change anything.”
Rutgers junior midfielder Shane Knobloch found the back of the net and reignited the Scarlet Knights’ scoring, breaking a 25-minute drought.
“[Wahlund] was really encouraging to say, ‘Hey man, here are the shots I’m seeing, here are the things I want to see,’ and so I think when you can get connectivity between your goalie and your defense in terms of chemistry, that was it,” Myers said.
Senior defenseman Justin Sherrer scored his second-career goal for the Buckeyes with 10:42 left in the third quarter. Rutgers answered with two goals of its own.
“I didn’t think we’d really gotten back into an offensive rhythm, really until the end of the third and into the fourth,” Myers said.
That rhythm returned on Smith’s fourth goal of the night with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
The Scarlet Knights rounded out the game with two goals in the fourth quarter, but graduate midfielder Kyle Borda solidified Ohio State’s victory with his only goal of the matchup.
“That goal that Borda had kind of put it away,” Myers said. “At that point it was just a matter of running the clock out.”
Wahlund finished the night with a 70.8 save percentage — his career best — and held Rutgers to its lowest score this season.
Ohio State will travel to State College to face No. 9 Penn State at Panzer Stadium April 2. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
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