During the past two weeks of Towson’s NCAA tournament run, faceoff specialist Alex Woodall played through a hamstring injury. But neither Woodall nor the Tigers could escape the pain of his absence Saturday afternoon.
Third-seeded Ohio State won 10 of 13 second-half face-offs to help erase a five-goal deficit as the Buckeyes staged an 11-10 comeback victory over Towson in the national semifinals at Gillette Stadium.
Woodall (St. Mary’s), a sophomore from Annapolis, had played well against Jake Withers, one of the best in Division I, during the first half. He won seven of 12 and the Tigers (12-5) enjoyed a 7-3 lead after two quarters. But Woodall slowed in the second half from a recurring left hamstring injury that he hurt in a first-round win over Penn State.
With about two minutes left in the third period, he crashed to the turf and was limited for the rest of the game, becoming a defensive liability if he lost the faceoff. Ohio State took control of the game in the final 12 minutes as midfielder JT Blubaugh scored to break a 9-9 tie with 10:20 remaining and midfielder Johnny Pearson beat defenseman Jack Adams (Hereford) for a goal nearly four minutes later.
Attackman Ryan Drenner (Westminster) scored with 3:17 left to pull the Tigers within one, but Towson couldn’t convert on two possessions in the final 50 seconds to tie the game.
“I think what really happened to us was the way the faceoffs went, and we had to play a lot of defense,” Towson coach Shawn Nadelen. “They had the ball more. A good offensive team has the ball more and they are that more dangerous. They were able to take advantage of some of those matchups that we typically have advantages of or at least do a good job in. We just weren’t making as many stops as we normally do.”
Ohio State had too many strong shooters and they punished Towson from the outside. The Buckeyes scored two extra-man goals in the second half, and they got long-range goals from Pearson and midfielder Tre Leclaire, who finished with three goals and one assist.
Then there was Buckeyes attackman Eric Fannell. Towson did a good job of defending him with short-stick midfielder Zach Goodrich (Kent Island) in the first half, but he got too many scoring opportunities in the second when he scored two goals and collected one assist.
The loss ended a strong run by the Tigers, who won eight of their last 10 games. They weathered major offseason surgeries to midfielders Mike Lynch (Boys’ Latin) and Joe Seider (Hereford), and had to work through several games without Adams because of hamstring problems.
They rode the tough-guy mentality to playoff wins over Penn State and Syracuse, and had Ohio State in a vulnerable position in the first half. The Buckeyes couldn’t stop Towson’s offense from attacking top side and in the middle of the field. The Tigers pounded Ohio State with inside goals, one each from midfielders Lynch and Jon Mazza, a Davidsonville resident, in the first quarter.
Drenner played well for the entire game and took advantage of Ohio State defenseman Erik Evans every time he matched up against him. Drenner ended up with three goals and one assist, and Seider also had three goals.
As loose as Towson played in the first half, Ohio State was tight. The Buckeyes pressed taking quick shots and leaving holes in their defense. The Tigers were on the verge of blowing them out, but the Buckeyes were saved by goalie Tom Carey, who finished with 10 saves including eight in the first half.
“I told them at halftime, ‘We’ve got Jake, Tommy’s seeing the ball well. We’ve just got to chip away at this,’” Ohio State coach Nick Myers said. “The team had a lot of confidence that if we did that, we were going to get right back in it. In the third quarter, there was probably a seven- or eight-minute period of time where I thought we had the ball the entire time. That’s where we got our confidence.”
In the second half, the Buckeyes slid hard outside from the crease. They cut off any penetration at the top of the restraining box. While Ohio State was winning faceoffs, Towson’s offense got out of rhythm. Towson didn’t win a faceoff in the fourth quarter and was outscored 3-1 in the period.
“I think that they played better overall defensively,” Seider said of Ohio State’s second-half performance. “I think they pressured out a little bit more on our shorties, so that made it tough to get middies to dodge for us. They started on offense, so it was a little slower offensively than in the first half. I think overall, they just played a more sound defense than they did in the first half, and you’ve got to give credit to them for playing better.”
Ohio State’s domination of the faceoffs showed some of Towson’s weaknesses. Tiger goalie Matt Hoy is solid and will make the stops he is supposed to make, but doesn’t come up with a lot of big saves to halt scoring runs by other teams.
Towson plays great defense in the midfield, but not on the back end. And if a team like Ohio State gets second chances, it is nearly unbeatable.
“I think we got pretty good defensive personnel, and they challenged us,” Nadelen said. “Got their hands free a couple times. The early ones in the third quarter were tough, because it was unsettled, a transition, an extra man — those kinds of plays. Then you get the one where we’re one man up.
“We allowed them to make some of those little plays, and then they made enough six on six to earn the win.”