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SYRACUSE ALWAYS SEEMS TO BE RIGHT AT HOME IN LACROSSE'S FINAL FOUR

Having survived an uncharacteristically poor regular season, the Syracuse lacrosse team plans on a more typical performance this weekend in the Final Four.

The defending champions lost three home games and endured their first three-game losing streak since 1981. Yet the Orangemen have flourished in the postseason, beating Dartmouth and then Princeton to advance to the semifinal round for an unprecedented 21st straight year.

Syracuse (10-5) today will face top-seeded Johns Hopkins (13-1), which has won 10 straight and will surely receive plenty of support from an expected crowd of more 32,000 at M&T Bank Stadium (11:30 a.m., ESPN 2).

While some might consider the Orangemen to be the underdog, it's important to note that Syracuse has won this tournament eight times and is 4-0 in the semifinals since 1998.

"It's a pretty daunting opponent," Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "May is their month."

The second semifinal today (2 p.m., ESPN 2) matches Atlantic Coast Conference foes Virginia (13-2) and Maryland (12-3). The winners meet in the final Monday.

A month ago, it appeared that the Final Four might be conducted without Syracuse for the first time since 1982. Successive losses to Rutgers, Hofstra and Massachusetts left the Orangemen with a 7-5 record and plenty of doubts.

But Syracuse rebounded from a 6-3 halftime deficit to beat Georgetown and gain entry to the tournament. After a 13-11 struggle against Dartmouth, the Orangemen finally got it together with a 15-5 quarterfinal rout of six-time NCAA champion Princeton -- which beat Syracuse, 11-10, on March 22.

"The season was a little shaky for us, but it all came together against Princeton," senior defenseman Solomon Bliss said. "I don't know if we're relieved to be here; we were always planning on it, no matter what."

Syracuse in the Final Four is as much a part of the Memorial Day weekend as cookouts and the opening of the local swimming pool. This year is no different.

"My parents make reservations for the Final Four a year in advance," said Mike Powell, who has 31 goals and 31 assists. ". . . We've proven we can play with the best in the country."

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