Scranton at Goucher: Three things to watch

Goucher owns a slight 5-4 edge in its series against Landmark Conference rival Scranton and has won the last two meetings. The Gophers have won four consecutive games at home after dropping their first two, while the Royals are 4-3 on the road but have lost two of their last three away from Fitzpatrick Field in Scranton, Pa.

Scranton (9-6 overall and 4-1 in the league) have lost two of their last three contests. The defense has been anchored by sophomore goalkeeper Nicholas McKaba, who ranks 16th in Division III with a 6.58 goals-against average and has recorded a .569 save percentage.

Goucher (6-6, 4-1) has won four of its last five games and is taking aim at what would be the program’s sixth straight regular-season championship and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. After a shaky start, junior goalie Karl Wiszumerski has settled in, posting an 8.11 goals-against average and a .515 save percentage.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Gopher Stadium in Towson on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

1) Solve the Royals’ defense. The Gophers have averaged 10.2 goals and 36.5 shots per game this season, but have found their groove in the conference. They have raised those numbers to 12.6 goals and 44.6 shots against Landmark opponents. But Goucher will clash with a Scranton defense that has surrendered an average of just 4.6 goals and 22.8 shots against the league. Still, coach Brian Kelly said he doesn’t anticipate doing anything out of character against the Royals. 

“Just be disciplined and kind of stick to our offensive philosophy, which is built on good ball movement,” Kelly said of the offensive strategy. “If we can get that and we can get the defense rotating, we should be generating quality shot opportunities. They’ve got a great goalie and a defense that has some senior leadership at the close defense position as well as the short-stick defensive midfield position.”

2) Beware the Royals’ midfield. Scranton is averaging just 8.9 goals on offense, which may not sound like much. But the unit is paced by a pair of midfielders. Senior John Gregitis leads the team in assists (18) and points (40), while sophomore Alec Mikrut has scored a team-high 25 goals and rank second with 10 assists. Kelly acknowledged that the Gophers could double-pole Gregitis and Mikrut, but also pointed out that they have other options.

“There’s a whole range of things we can do relative to how we defend them,” he said. “I feel pretty good about where we are as a defensive group and our personnel. So we’re going to put ourselves in a position to play it straight up right out of the gate and then see how the game plays itself out.”

3) Get another strong effort on faceoffs. The Royals have one of the best faceoff specialists in the country in Matt Finor. The junior ranks fifth in the nation with a 69.3 success rate (183-of-264). But in Scranton’s 7-6 loss to the Gophers on April 20, 2013, Finor won just 4-of-10 draws against then-freshman Tristan Morris. Kelly is hoping that Morris, who has won just 48.1 percent (100-of-208) this spring, but is at 60.2 percent (53-of-88) against conference opponents, can repeat that performance.

“He’s a very good and gifted athlete,” Kelly said of Finor. “He’s quick on the whistle. So it’s going to be a challenge. But we’re hopeful. Tristan had a good game against him last year. So we’re hopeful that maybe we can find some of that success that we had last year.”

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