What was perhaps its best chance yet to make the final group of 16 teams slipped out of reach yesterday, when the Tigers were dealt a 2-0 loss by No. 1 seed Hartford in the America East championship game.
A win would have made the second-seeded Tigers league champions for the first time after having gone 0-2 in their only previous title game appearances. Along with the league title would have come the automatic bid to the NCAA tourney. Instead, it will be the Hawks who will wait for tomorrow's selection announcements to learn their place in the draw.
"I just think it was their day," said Towson striker Todd Lauber.
As if to drive that point home, consider the timing of Asaf Lubezky's lead goal, the game-winner as it turned out. It came with only nine seconds remaining in what had been a helter-skelter first half.
"Psychologically, it doesn't help to have to go in the locker room when they scored like that," Towson coach Frank Olszewski said.
On the other hand, the Tigers could have felt fortunate to exit the half trailing by just one goal. After having its way for most of the opening 15 minutes, Towson had to withstand long stretches of sustained Hartford pressure, and wound up being outshot, 9-2, before intermission.
Towson's best scoring chance of the game arrived at the eight-minute mark, when Lauber, who was set up alone 12 yards in front of Hawks goalie Chris Doyle, unloaded a hard shot that Doyle managed to absorb.
"It bounced kind of high," said Lauber, a sophomore from Colorado Springs, "and I was waiting for it to come down. I thought I shot it pretty hard, but I guess I shot it right at him. We had our chances, but we couldn't put them away."
Soon the chances stopped coming, as Doyle's stop poured new energy into the Hawks, who responded by routinely pinning Towson back in its own end, and generally making life tough for Chris Hurley, the Tigers goalkeeper.
Disorder along the Towson back line forced Hurley to come out of his area to cut off Hartford attackers. "They just kept to their game plan," said Olszewski, "as far as trying to work the ball through midfield and trying to put pressure on us."
The Hartford tactic paid off in the waning seconds of the half, when Lubezky cut through the defense, took a short ball from Michael Zeller, then drove a 15-yarder past the helpless Hurley.
"If you're going to score a goal, that's when you would want to get it," said Olszewski. "I told [the guys] that they have faced adversity all year, and now they faced it again."
Searching for the tying goal, the Tigers attempted to launch a counter-attack in the early moments of the second half. But it wasn't until the 70th minute that they created a serious threat.
That came when leading scorer Alfonso DeMares sent a dangerous ball down the goal line for Lauber. Doyle, diving, left the ball lying in the crease, but managed to gather it just as Lauber was poised to boot it in.
One minute later, Dominic Wilcock of the Hawks sealed the result when he fought off a defender and squeezed his shot inside the right post.
"This would have been the icing on the cake," said Olszewski. "It's disappointing, but we're young, and we'll be back."