Catonsville junior Frank Manalansan scored the go-ahead goal with 4:15 left in the fourth quarter and a stellar Comets defense shut out host Towson the rest of the way in a 7-6 boys lacrosse victory on Thursday evening.
It was the only goal of the fourth quarter, and Manalansan just took advantage of what little space either team got all night.
“I really just saw the defenseman overplayed me, I saw him go one way and I went the other pretty much,” said Manalansan, who scored a game-high three goals and added an assist.
The junior said goals didn’t come easy against a Towson defense led by Tyler Stankoski, Jordi Andreou, Max Osborn and Joe Murray and anchored by goalie Michael Giordani (five saves).
“Their defense is really physical and they were all really good with their sticks, so it was just ball movement for us that got us those goals,” Manalansan said.
“Our defense played the best game of the year,” Towson coach Rick Brocato said. “We haven’t had much of a test in any other game and to be able to step up against these guys and do the subtle things that we need to do defensively, we sat down and we played disciplined defense and I think we made it hard on them to score too.”
As much as he liked the way his defense performed, he couldn’t resist praising Catonsville goalie Brian Ruppel, who had 11 saves, including several rockets from point-blank range.
“I think it’s a different ballgame if that kid in the goal isn’t in the goal,” Brocato said. “He is something special. I coached him this summer at a Nike all-star game and we won the championship and he is terrific.”
Ruppel, a junior who will play at the University of Maryland in 2023, was also a key weapon on clears, often taking the ball midway down the field when he didn’t find an open outlet.
“He is a different kind of kid. He is awesome,” Catonsville coach KR Schultz said. “He’s laser-focused, does everything you can do, like off the field and on the field he is just a hyper-competitive kid. He is obsessed with his craft and he’s played very, very well for us thus far.”
Schultz didn’t hesitate to credit defenders James Azbill, John Gorski, Jack Krug and Ethan Gutberlet.
“Azbill was great today and Gorski and Jack Krug stepped up and Gutberlet stepped up,” said Schultz, who also praised assistant and former Comet AJ Beck. “Coach AJ Beck is our D coordinator and he’s done a heck of a job working with that whole defensive group.”
Towson faceoff specialist Kyle Ketterman helped the Generals control the pace, but the defenses shined in a first quarter that was tied 1-1 after goals from Catonsville’s Johnny Bolster and Towson’s Nate Hochrein.
Ketterman won 12 of 17 faceoffs against Catonsville’s Nate Wess with a lot of extra effort.
“Nate is a great faceoff guy and that was a great battle,” Schultz said.
“We did a good job at the faceoff and it was all about finishing today. They finished one more than we did and that’s what happens when two good teams play,” Brocato said. “They are well-coached and they are a good team and I think we are well-coached and we are a good team.”
Towson took its only lead of the game on a goal by Hochrein with 8:04 left in the second quarter.
The Comets got a post shot from Mikalaski and another shot by Eric Kaplan that was saved by Giordani before Manalansan netted the equalizer off an assist from Kaplan with 5:06 left until halftime.
Catonsville took a 3-2 advantage into halftime on a goal by Byron Newman.
The third quarter was the most explosive by both offenses.
The Comets struck twice on goals by Manalansan, off a Newman assist with 6:39 left, and a score by Drew Abenschoen off a nifty feed from behind the goal by Manalansan with 5:44 left.
Ketterman won six of eight faceoffs in the third quarter and the three-goal Catonsville lead evaporated.
Brown scored the first with 2:03 left and Mason Cloyd scored off a rebound with 1:19 left to make it 5-4.
A goal by Catonsville’s Newman stemmed the tide with 43 seconds left, but Towson answered to tie the game at 6-6 on two goals 14 seconds apart.
Will Derbyshire scored in transition off a feed by Jones and Jones also scored on a breakaway with 19 seconds left to make it 6-6.
“We knew we are pretty good in transition so we tried to take it when we can, but against this team it really felt like we needed to possess a little bit and I thought we played within ourselves offensively,” Brocato said.
The Comets regrouped in the fourth quarter and held the Generals scoreless.
“We just had to dig in, don’t get too low, don’t get too high, just keep playing,” Manalansan said.
Schultz had no problem with Manalansan taking the game-winning shot.
“He worked so hard during quarantine,” he said. “We saw the promise as a freshman, but man, the difference between his freshman year and now, like he was always good, but he’s taken a whole other step.”
Towson’s last chance for a game-tying goal ended in the final seconds with a turnover forced by Gorski.
The win capped an impressive week for the unbeaten Comets (4-0), who defeated Dulaney, 14-5, on Tuesday.
“It’s like a relief pretty much, that’s a really good team we just played and it feels good,” said Manalansan, who was happy to hear Wednesday that there will be a state playoff tournament for spring sports. “I’m really excited, we get to keep playing for our seniors.”
The loss was the first for Towson, who had beaten Sparrows Point, Perry Hall and Dulaney.
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“Today was the best we have played all year,” Brocato said. “We’ve had some big wins, but we haven’t played a team of this caliber. We did a lot of good things today.”