April 24, 2010

Towson Ekes Out Another Win, Its Fifth Straight

by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Travis Love made 15 saves Saturday, as Towson clinched the CAA regular season title with a 10-9 win over Penn State.

Even after his Towson University men’s lacrosse team twice took three-goal leads against a Penn State team it never trailed, Tigers coach Tony Seaman sensed his rejuvenated defense ultimately would decide the issue. He was right.

And while the 14th-ranked Tigers were attempting to run out the clock and preserve a one-goal lead with under two minutes remaining, Towson junior goalie Travis Love figured he would have to make at least one more save. He was wrong.

Love sparkled again with 15 saves in a 10-9 squeaker before 1,409 at Unitas Stadium, but he didn’t have to play the late hero, after the Tigers committed their 19th turnover with 44 seconds left. That’s because junior short-stick midfielder Peter Mezzanotte stripped Penn State midfielder Kyle Van Thof 15 yards from the cage, then cleared the ball successfully, giving the Tigers the last chance they would need to drain the clock.

The April roll for Towson (6-5, 4-0 CAA) continues. The Tigers, after stumbling to a 1-5 start, have won five straight for the first time since 2005 and are now Colonial Athletic Association regular season champions. Towson is guaranteed the top seed in the CAA tournament that begins on May 5 and will produce an automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament.

It wasn’t easy against the Nittany Lions (2-10, 1-3). But Towson, ranked for the first time in two years and sitting above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2007 season, doesn’t do easy.

The Tigers -- who played a ton of defense, got out-shot, 41-33, and blew a 9-6 lead they had built after three quarters -- are 4-1 in one-goal games. They have won their last three by one goal, including last week’s 8-7 thriller over then-No. 7 Drexel, a victory that Love sealed with a game-saving stop as time expired.

“This team wants to do everything it can possibly do to take away my life,” Seaman said. “We just don’t quit. We keep hanging in there. What a play [by Mezzanotte]. He’s our leading takeaway guy, and he just comes through in crucial situations.”

This was a dangerous game for Towson, which is set to face Johns Hopkins on Wednesday night at Homewood Field in an annual grudge match for Seaman, who took over at Towson after getting fired by Hopkins in 1998. Towson is 3-34 against Hopkins and last beat the Blue Jays 14 years ago.

Despite some sloppy clearing early, Towson was out to a 5-2 lead five minutes into the second quarter. But the Nittany Lions didn’t look so lowly after that. Penn State started manhandling the Tigers on faceoffs and taking over the game’s tempo by forcing Towson to sit back on defense. Penn State eventually won 14 of 21 faceoffs.

But Towson, which had nine different players score goals and was led by attackman Tim Stratton (two goals, two assists), kept finding answers. They surrendered a goal to Penn State attackman Billy Gribbin (three goals) with one second left in the first half that allowed the Lions to close to within 7-5, yet eased away to a 9-6 advantage on third-quarter scores by midfielder Will Harrington and Stratton, who slipped inside and beat goalie Dave Baker from in close with 1:14 left in the quarter.

Penn State then went to work winning faceoffs and canning shots, with a three-goal burst spanning 1:47 early in the fourth. Freshman midfielder Nick Dolik (three goals) scored after a great one-on-one move to get near the left crease to make it 9-9 with 8:57 left, and the game was tied for the first time.

Back came Towson. With 6:41 to go, Harrington found senior midfielder Christian Pastirik up top in the Tigers’ extra-man set, and the graduate student blew a 15-yarder past Baker to give Towson its final lead.

The rest fell to the Towson defense, which has allowed an average of 7.6 goals per game in its last six games, and has rallied around Love, who has started the last eight games after replacing Rob Wheeler.

“Our defense has kept playing great all year,” said Love, who has a .583 save percentage as a starter. “We forced [Penn State’s shooters] down the lanes and gave them outside shots all day. We’re not giving up the high-percentage shots. They’re making my life easier.”

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