Lehigh's Brian Hess, Bucknell's Ryan Gutowski
Bucknell (10-2) hosts Lehigh (8-4) on Friday night for the top spot in the Patriot League. The winner hosts the league tournament. The Mountain Hawks attack has been special — David DiMaria (47 points), Dante Fantoni (34) and Dan Taylor (34) do most of the damage for coach Kevin Cassese, but team success hinges on midfield production. Meanwhile, the Bison have four 20-plus goal scorers: Chase Bailey (25), Todd Heritage (28), Sean Doyle (20) and freshman Thomas Flibotte (27) light it up. Their roster features eight Maryland natives, including six from the Baltimore metro area. Meanwhile, Lehigh has five Marylanders on the roster. Brian Hess, a McDonogh product, is the Mountain Hawks captain. He has six goals and two assists in four Patriot League games, including a hat trick at West Point. Bucknell, under coach Frank Fedorjaka, uses innovative schemes, including a 10-man ride. The Bison pull their goalie and press all over the field; opponents clear the ball only 77 percent of the time. In settled sets on defense, they double the dodger quickly. The aggressive strategy can cause ball-carriers fits. They are difficult to prepare for. If Lehigh can handle the immediate double teams and keep proper spacing, it can fleece Bucknell with ball movement. Opponents are shooting a solid 29 percent against Bucknell. Bison goalkeeper Kyle Feeney leads all active Division I keepers with 38 wins, but Lehigh has an edge in the cage with goalie Matt Poillon, whose goals-against average is 7.91 with a .526 save percentage.
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Penn State's Jack Forster, Towson's Thomas DeNapoli
Are the Tigers for real? Winner of four straight, Towson is 7-5 and 3-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Coach Shawn Nadelen, in his second year, has done fine work advancing this team after an 0-3 start. The Nittany Lions (8-3) have won six straight. They aren't flashy but have an up-and-coming program that works hard and has learned to play to its strengths. The factors that will make the difference: Goaltending: Towson senior Andrew Wascavage has been unreal. He currently ranks No. 4 nationally in save percentage (.615) and has held opponents to an average of 6.5 goals in the four-game streak. But Penn State counters with one of the nation's most gifted stoppers, Austin Kaut, who is No. 3 in save percentage (.629). Coach Jeff Tambroni has done a marvelous job mixing man and zone defensive concepts to keep opponents guessing. Penn State offense: The Lions' attackmen are running amok. Jack Forster (26, 11), freshman TJ Sanders (28, 3) and Shane Sturgis (18, 13) pack a punch. Can their shooting break Wascavage¿s rhythm? Can the trio handle Towson's close defensemen who throw lumber? Can Penn State penetrate off the dodge? From film study it appears Towson is slow to support its poles and prefers to fake slide or hedge halfway. Faceoffs: Towson is using freshman long-pole Pat Conroy on faceoffs. Conroy has mucked and scrambled his way, creating 50-50 loose-ball scrums for his wingers. A team weakness (.385 winning percentage on draws) has been minimized lately. Penn State counters with Danny Henneghan, a stout senior from Michigan who has won 57.1 percent of his draws. Towson offense: Junior Thomas DeNapoli was shifted from midfield to attack. The left-hander now runs the show and has 29 goals, doubling his production from 2012. The Tigers set a ton of on-ball picks, so Penn State's pick-and-roll defense will be crucial. This game smells like a low-scoring contest.
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During the college lacrosse regular season, not all weekends are created equal. Sure, you're just about guaranteed to have a marquee game every time, but one or two are about all you can hope for. That's why this weekend, with five high-emotion, high-stakes contests, seems almost too good to be true. From teams on the ropes (Johns Hopkins and Virginia) to teams on a roll (Duke, Penn State), from stingy defenses (Bucknell) to high-powered offenses (Maryland), these five games feature everything you could ask for: — By Quint Kessenich, For The Baltimore Sun
By Quint Kessenich, For The Baltimore Sun