No. 11 Towson has won both meetings with Fairfield, including an 18-11 rout on April 23. The Stags are making their first appearance in a conference tournament final since 2013 when they were members of the Eastern College Athletic Conference. The Tigers have a chance to capture their third Colonial Athletic Association tournament crown in the past four years.
Fairfield (9-7), the No. 2 seed in the CAA tournament, defeated No. 3 seed Hofstra, 11-8, in Thursday night's semifinal. Attackman Colin Burke proved why he is the conference's Co-Offensive Player and Rookie of the Year. He tied career highs in goals (five) and points (seven) Thursday night and has scored 46 goals to rank second on the program's single-season list.
Towson (13-2), the top seed in the tourney, outlasted No. 4 seed Drexel, 10-6, in Thursday's other semifinal. Redshirt senior Tyler White leads the program in wins by a goalkeeper with 33. He is now tied with Massachusetts' Tim McCormack and Drexel's Bruce Bickford for the most victories by a CAA netminder.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Saturday at 1 p.m.
1) Fairfield's offense vs. Towson's defense. The Tigers' regular-season win was fueled by a 9-0 run spanning the first and second quarters that gave them a 10-2 advantage with 1 minute, 58 seconds left before halftime. And the defense shut out the Stags' first midfield of seniors T.J. Neubauer (Loyola Blakefield), Charlie Schnider and sophomore Joe Rodrigues. But Fairfield's starting attack of Burke, junior Nico Panepinto and sophomore Charlie Horning combined for nine goals and four assists, and Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said after the game that the defense can be stouter.
"Defensively, I thought we were decent," he said. "Not great, but decent. Over the course of that first half, we really kind of showed what we're able to do if we are locked into our responsibilities and everybody is working together against a tough Fairfield team."
2) Fairfield's Rope unit vs. Towson's midfield. In that game two weeks ago, junior midfielder Mike Lynch (Boys' Latin) registered five goals and one assist, and senior midfielder Ben McCarty (South Carroll) added one goal and one assist. Although junior Tyler Young (Arundel) did not score on two shots, Stags coach Andy Copelan said he thought the Tigers' midfield was just as dangerous as their attack of juniors Ryan Drenner (Westminster) and Joe Seider (Hereford) and senior Spencer Parks (St. Paul's).
"Everybody talks about Seider, Drenner and Parks, their attack kind of leading the show for them. That first midfield is as good of a midfield we've seen to date," Copelan said. "They have spectacular speed, they go two-handed, they're tough, gritty kids, they get to the rack."
3) Fairfield's faceoff unit vs. Towson's faceoff unit. The Tigers' 9-0 spurt was powered by a 10-of-15 performance on draws in the first half. But the Stags rebounded in the second half with sophomore Will Fox going 16-of-24 with seven ground balls for the entire contest. Sophomore Steve Stillwell won 11-of-23 faceoffs with six ground balls, junior Alec Burckley went 1-of-6 with one loose ball, and senior Patrick Conroy claimed 1-of-3 draws. Nadelen said Towson's wings need to help the faceoff specialists.
"We weren't getting great wing play as well," he said. "So that was frustrating. Alec came in and did a little bit better as far as skill off the ground. But we really couldn't get anything going in the second half, and that's a credit to Fairfield with understanding how to get back into the game."