March 25, 2011

NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Notebook: Towson Not Out of Woods Yet

by Gary Lambrecht |

"We're still waiting on Stratton," Towson coach Tony Seaman said of the Tigers' offensive turnaround, referencing senior attackman Tim Stratton, who has just one goal on 10 shots this season.

The wait had become a little torturous for the Towson University men's lacrosse team, starting with its head coach. But finally, after a prolific, two-game stretch that included Saturday's 9-8 upset of then-no. 5 Stony Brook, Tony Seaman hopes he is seeing a light at the end of what had been a virtually scoreless tunnel for the Tigers.

After managing merely 12 goals in their first three losses to Johns Hopkins, Loyola and Maryland, the Tigers have scored 20 times in their past two outings. Towson's huge win was preceded by a 14-11 loss at Navy.

Sophomore attackman Matt Hughes has led the offensive turnaround with back-to-back hat tricks. The Tigers also are shooting a healthy 37 percent (20-for-54) in their last two games.

"I don't know if this team is good enough to kid me, or if they actually are that good," said Seaman, Towson's 13th-year coach. "Hopefully, [the Stony Brook win] is going to do a lot for us. We'll see about that on Saturday."

The unranked Tigers (2-4) are not that good yet. But at least they have gathered some confidence, just in time for the start of their tough, Colonial Athletic Association schedule, which begins with Saturday's visit to Delaware. The Blue Hens last week upset sixth-ranked Hofstra. Towson most likely needs to win the CAA tournament to get into the NCAAs with an automatic bid.

While the Tigers have gone out of character by playing more zone defense than arguably any other Seaman-coached team -- and have done it effectively, with the exception of a fourth-quarter debacle at Navy, where Towson blew an 11-8 lead by surrendering the final six goals -- the Tigers were in a terrible funk offensively. Remember that epic, 3-2 loss to Loyola on Feb. 26?

"We're getting better offensive possessions, putting more shots on goal. Our extra man has come alive. We're getting to know each other better," Seaman said. "We're still waiting on [Tim] Stratton. We need him to start getting two or three points a game."

Stratton, the senior attackman who was the top returning scorer in 2011, has just one goal on 10 shots, as opposing defenses have hounded him. With more attention inevitably headed toward Hughes, maybe Stratton will awaken soon.

Baltimore Four not so hot

The early returns are in, and the dirty secret is out in Baltimore. The so-called hotbed of lacrosse is pretty ice-cold these days, if you're measuring quality by how things are going at Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Towson and UMBC.

Let's start with the fact that the only team to beat a top 10 opponent is Towson (2-4), which is averaging just 7.2 goals per game.

Hopkins (5-2) beat Towson in its season opener, and has blowout victories over Delaware, Siena and Manhattan. But the Blue Jays, who are extremely young, have managed just seven goals in losses to Syracuse and Princeton, which is still looking for its second victory. The Blue Jays have lacked playmakers badly in their two losses and will try to avoid their sixth consecutive loss to Virginia on Saturday. Hopkins has been forced to take the air out of the ball and play to a defense that is allowing only 5.4 goals per contest.

Once again, it looks as if Hopkins will have to fight hard to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1971. Since losing in the NCAA title game in 2008, the Blue Jays are a pedestrian 22-15, without a win over a top 5 opponent.

Loyola (3-3) has dropped three straight, including an 8-6 setback at Air Force on Saturday, and the Greyhounds have failed to break two major habits. They continue to start slowly, and they can't sustain any real offense outside of attackman Mike Sawyer, who is one of the more creative shooters in the game. Winning the ECAC and earning an automatic bid is looking more and more like a long shot at Evergreen.

UMBC (1-4) is fading fast with a squad that is severely lacking in size, quickness and experience. The Retrievers have been outscored, 56-25, in losses to Rutgers, North Carolina, Hopkins and Maryland, and will try to make some hay in the America East. The Retrievers are 5-13 since losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2009, the year they made their fourth straight NCAA tournament.

Breschi shakes up UNC defense

No. 8 North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said he is concerned about how tired the young Tar Heels (6-2) have looked, after playing five games in 17 days, including Tuesday's 12-7, come-from-behind win over Dartmouth. But there is no doubt Breschi was sending a message to his defense, after Carolina recently got blitzed by Duke, 14-9. The Blue Devils throttled Carolina in the ground ball battle.

Breschi elected to give first-time starting assignments to sophomore goalie Steven Rastivo, senior close defenseman Emmitt Kellar and freshman close defenseman Jordan Smith. The Tar Heels, who visit fifth-ranked Maryland on Saturday, held Dartmouth scoreless for the first 13 minutes of the fourth quarter, while Rastivo stepped up to make 12 saves.

"Our thing was, we felt like we didn't play to our ability against Duke and we felt we needed to adjust some things, tweak some things, shake the tree a little bit," Breschi said. "I thought the defense responded and played very well. Steve did a great job. He made some big saves and did a great job clearing the ball as well. I couldn't be more proud of his effort, with a tired group in front of him, but a group that grinded it out and played hard for him."

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