Towson has won 10 of 11 meetings with Mount St. Mary's and hasn't dropped a game in this series since March 26, 1975 – a span of nine contests. The Mountaineers are seeking their first 2-0 start since making the leap to Division I for the 1989 campaign. The Tigers are 19-12 at home under coach Shawn Nadelen and are trying to get to 2-0 for the first time since 2007.
Mount St. Mary's made a furious second-half comeback to overtake host Delaware for a 14-11 victory on Feb. 12 and earn the program's second consecutive season-opening win and third in the last five years. The output was the program's highest since April 27, 2013 when that squad pummeled Wagner, 14-7. The first midfield of seniors Evan Gormley and Justin Gosnell and junior Ryan Lamon combined for seven goals on 14 shots and two assists.
Towson blanketed Mercer's shooters, preventing them from taking a shot in the first 17 minutes en route to an 11-2 thumping on Feb. 12. The two goals allowed by the defense were the fewest since the 2014 squad walloped Mount St. Mary's, 9-1, on March 1. The close defense of seniors Mike Lowe, Andrew Cordes and Nick Gorman limited the Bears' starting attack to one goal on three shots and caused that unit to commit five turnovers.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Saturday at 2 p.m.
1) Mount St. Mary's on defense. The Mountaineers won despite allowing the Blue Hens to outshoot them, 23-13, in the first half and take a 7-5 lead into halftime. That deficit ballooned to 9-6 in the first 2 minutes, 6 seconds of the third quarter before Mount St. Mary's found its rhythm on defense. The simple thing to do is to point the finger at the close defense of senior Brent Tsang, redshirt sophomore Kevin Verkler and sophomore Daniel Barber, who are starting together for the first time. But coach Tom Gravante said that would be misguided.
"I don't think it's just them," he said. "It's the unit overall. For those three guys and [sophomore goalkeeper] Matt [Vierheller], it's the ability to really communicate effectively on defense and work as one. That's where we have to go. That's where I thought we got better last year with the three young men who were running defense for us. There were three seniors down there with Nick Firman and Kyle O'Brien and Alex Stefkovich, and we had some good men running short-stick DM for us. So we have some young guys in this lineup along with three base defensemen who got playing minutes last year but weren't starters. That's what really needs to improve overall."
2) Towson in the midfield. While the Tigers got seven goals and two assists from their starting attack of senior Spencer Parks and juniors Joe Seider and Ryan Drenner, the first midfield wasn't quite as effective. Senior Ben McCarty and juniors Mike Lynch and Tyler Young totaled just one goal on nine shots and two assists. Nadelen said he's not concerned about the trio's numbers yet, but emphasized that they must take fuller advantage of their opportunities.
"I would have liked to have seen them be more productive against Mercer," he said. "I don't think we capitalized on nearly enough chances that we should have with those guys on the field, but they made some nice plays overall to help us get a goal or go back on defense. Those guys are pretty versatile players."
3) Mount St. Mary's on faceoffs. The Mountaineers' rally against Delaware began at the faceoff X. After watching the team win just 5-of-13 draws in the first half against Delaware, Gravante moved Verkler and Barber to the wings. The move paid off as the defensemen's physical style allowed teammates to go after loose balls and match the Blue Hens with seven faceoff wins in the second half.
"We had to heat up the ground ball battle," Gravante said. "We weren't winning ground balls off the faceoffs. Their faceoff kid was winning the ball cleanly and picking it up himself. The ball was on the deck, and there was a fight for it, and we had to start picking it up. So we made some adjustments and put Kevin Verkler up to wing and put some of our long-sticks down. Kevin is a close defenseman and he's tough on ground balls. We brought up Dan Barber as well, and our short-stick DMs played better, really hunting the ground balls."