By winning their second straight Colonial Athletic Association tournament title, the Tigers earned an automatic berth in the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament. By putting together a game-ending, 4-1 run in front of 1,517 on Minnegan Field at Johnny Unitas Stadium, Towson guaranteed its third national tournament trip in the past four seasons.
The 16-team tournament field will be unveiled tomorrow, and the 10th-ranked Tigers (11-4), who have won 10 of their past 11 games, are feeling pretty good about their postseason chances.
"I can spend all day tomorrow and not worry what that wonderful [tournament selection] committee is going to do," Towson coach Tony Seaman said. "We made it a lot easier for them."
With the exception of some nagging turnovers and three penalties, Towson used a steady hand to beat Villanova (12-3), which achieved a school record for single-season victories and is looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance.
The Tigers coaxed numerous scores out of their fast-break offense, and got a team-high three goals from senior midfielder Drew Pfarr and two goals and one assist from senior midfielder Matt Florio. Sophomore attackman Steve Mull added a team-high three assists. And the Tigers did it against Villanova goalie Joseph Canuso, the CAA co-Player of the Year.
But this victory was mainly about Towson's depth, athleticism, physical defense and another dominant performance by faceoff specialist Ben DeFelice, who won 16 of 21 attempts against three different Wildcats.
Junior goalkeeper Reed Sothoron, fresh off a career-high 24 saves in Wednesday's 6-5 squeaker over Hofstra in the tournament semifinal, finished with 12 saves. Junior defensive midfielder Casey Cittadino, who led a Tigers unit that allowed just 12 goals in two games, was named the tournament's most valuable player.
"I thought our defense played great," said Sothoron, who, along with Pfarr, DeFelice and Mull, also made the all-tournament team. "I really didn't have to make too many hard saves."
The defense didn't have to sweat too much while DeFelice, the other co-Player of the Year, was doing his grunt work. He also collected 11 of Towson's 50 ground balls, moving into second place in school history with a single-season total of 130.
"[DeFelice] would probably be a starting attackman or definitely start at midfield, but I need him so much on faceoffs," Seaman said. "He stops runs against us, and he's always helping us get on runs. You keep getting the ball back."
The Tigers made those chances count during a 4-0 run that spanned both halves, during which Towson took a 7-3 lead with seven minutes left in the third quarter. And after the Wildcats had closed to within 8-6 early in the fourth quarter, the Tigers wore down Villanova in the faceoff circle and everywhere else during their clinching run.
During a four-minute stretch, freshman midfielder Keith Obloj, Pfarr and Florio scored in succession, giving the Tigers an 11-6 lead with 5:19 left in the game.
Villanova came out determined to avoid the run-and-gun pace it employed in its 20-11 loss to Towson last month. The Wildcats, who were led by attackman Eric Heidenberger (three goals), dominated the time of possession for most of the first half with a deliberate offense.
But their poor shooting negated that advantage, while the Tigers used a quick-strike attack to take a 5-3 halftime lead. Freshman attackman Bobby Griebe scored back-to-back goals in the half.
Villanova 2 1 2 2 - 7
Towson 3 2 3 4 - 12
Goals: V-Heidenberger 3, Kratz, Fanelli, Cacciabeve, Creegan; T-Pfarr 3, Florio 2, Griebe 2, Myers 2, Fountain, Engelke, Obloj. Assists: V-Kratz 3, Heidenberger, Starker, O'Donnell; T-Mull 3, Fountain 2, Florio. Saves: V-Canuso 10; T-Sothoron 12.