Towson holds a 37-17 advantage in its series with Delaware and has won five of the last seven meetings with its Colonial Athletic Association foe. Eight of the last 14 contests in this rivalry have been decided by two goals or less, and the Tigers are 6-2 in those games.
Delaware (5-3 overall and 0-1 in the conference) had a four-game winning streak in Saturday’s 11-9 loss to Hofstra. Conor Peaks, who replaced then-junior Chris Herbert and started the final started the final seven games of 2013, has started all eight contests thus far. Peaks, a sophomore, has posted a 8.13 goals-against average and a .596 save percentage.
No. 20 Towson (6-2, 0-0) will try to extend its winning streak to six, which would be the longest run since 2004, when that squad captured eight straight. The offense has featured balanced scoring with all six starters accumulating double-digit points so far. Senior attackman Thomas DeNapoli, freshman attackman Joe Seider (Hereford) and junior midfielder Greg Cuccinello rank first, second and third, respectively, in goals, while DeNapoli, junior midfielder Justin Mabus and freshman midfielder Ryan Drenner are 1-2-3 in assists.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Saturday at 7 p.m.
1) Delaware’s midfield. The Blue Hens aren’t exactly eye-popping on offense, averaging 9.5 goals, which ranks 39th in Division I. But they are led by an aggressive first midfield, whose three players rank in the team’s top five in points. Junior Brian Kormondy (16 points) is tied for the team lead in goals with 10, freshman Jackson Finigan (14) leads in assists with nine, and freshman Steve DeLargy (nine) is tied for the team lead in shots with 28. Those three players have been a subject for studying by the Tigers.
“I don’t think we’ve faced a first midfield group of their caliber yet this year, and that’s something that we’ve got to pay a lot of attention to,” coach Shawn Nadelen said. “We’ve got to make sure that all seven of our guys on the defensive end are attuned to our game plan. They’re extremely physical when they dodge, they’re extremely fast and athletic. So they definitely bring a different challenge to the table than what we’ve faced this year.”
2) Delaware’s faceoffs. Towson’s struggles in this department are well documented -- the team has won just 45.8 percent (81-of-177) of its draws so far. Sophomore Conor Pequigney has been the lead specialist (43.5 percent on 47-of-108 and 29 ground balls), but Nadelen has not been shy about turning to freshman Alec Burckley, sophomore Pat Conroy or freshman Zack Gregory when things are going poorly. Saturday night could be a long one for the Tigers -- the Blue Hens rank eighth in the nation with a 61.3 percent (103-of-168) success rate on faceoffs. Junior Tyler Barbarich (64.4 percent on 76-of-118 and 43 ground balls) and sophomore Tyler Mardian (54.0 percent on 27-of-50 and 12 ground balls) have helped Delaware have a hand in dictating the pace of several games.
“It’s a game of possessions,” Blue Hens coach Bob Shillinglaw said. “It’s one aspect that can be an advantage for a team. The other aspect is that you’ve got to limit your turnovers. Can you get some caused turnovers? Can you ride and clear? All of those are key elements in being able to keep possessions and get more opportunities for the offensive end. So it absolutely can be an advantage, but if your faceoff guy doesn’t have a great day, then hopefully, we can counter that with maybe a few less turnovers and being right on top of our clearing game.”
3) Delaware’s man-down defense. Towson’s 2-of-3 showing on extra-man opportunities in Tuesday night’s 10-8 decision over UMBC helped raise the man-up offense’s success rate from 28.0 percent (7-of-25) to 32.1 percent (9-of-28). To enjoy similar results on Saturday night, the Tigers are going to have to execute with precision. That’s because the Blue Hens are tied for fifth in the country in man-down defense after killing 80 percent (28-of-35) of opponents’ extra-man situations. The flipside is that Delaware has demonstrated a propensity for being penalized, but Nadelen knows the onus will be on Towson to turn those opportunities into scores.
“It comes down to working for a high-quality shot,” he said. “Delaware’s very efficient on their man-down unit. They have a great goalie. They have long and big defensemen that can cover a lot of ground. Even if you do get a quality shot, you have to get it by a very good goalie. So I think they’re very confident about where they are and what they do. We’re not going to nitpick it too much from our end with regards to only taking one shot in one location. We’re going to put in something on offense to combat what they do in their man down, and there are going to be some options for us to get a high-quality shot.”