For the third consecutive year, the Towson men's lacrosse team captured the Colonial Athletic Association tournament crown and is going back to the NCAA tournament thanks to a familiar formula.
With a defense that surrendered only two even-strength goals and an offense that was productive enough, the top-seeded Tigers defeated third-seeded Massachusetts, 9-4, in the CAA final before an announced 1,075 at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Saturday afternoon.
Towson improved to 10-4 overall and 7-3 in the league tournament's title games. The team will find out its first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament when the bracket is unveiled Sunday night.
In the regular season, the Tigers had not allowed a single CAA opponent to reach double digits in goals, and that trend continued in the playoffs. After stifling No. 4 seed Drexel in an 8-4 victory Thursday in a tournament semifinal, the defense snuffed out any hope for the Minutemen, who got two goals off extra-man opportunities.
Against league competition this season, Towson gave up just 6.6 goals per game.
"We've been playing well all year," sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder Zach Goodrich said. "I don't think we look and say, 'Hey, we're not going to give up 10 goals in this game.' But our defense has been putting the work in each week, and everybody's been playing well, and [senior goalkeeper Matt] Hoy has been stepping up. It's just great to see everybody work together."
UMass' offensive starters combined for only four goals on 16 shots and two assists, and Hoy made eight saves including four in the first quarter. His biggest stop came with the Minutemen earning a man-up chance to trim a 5-3 deficit to one in the third quarter, and he made a stick save on freshman midfielder Jeff Trainor standing on the left side of the crease.
Seconds later, senior midfielder Mike Lynch took a pass from senior attackman Tyler Konen and painted the top left corner with a blast from the right point to give the Tigers a 6-3 advantage with 20 seconds remaining.
"Almost every time in the first half, it felt like I was seeing the shot and the attackman was fading away from the net," said Hoy, who has taken over the starting role from junior Josh Miller. "That gives me a huge advantage because it takes a lot of speed off the ball. They were getting pushed farther away from the net so that I had more time to react."
Towson's defensive outing is more surprising considering the team did not practice Friday because of downpours throughout the day. Instead, the players studied film of UMass' offense.
"We trusted those guys in film prep with it," Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said. "Those guys understood their opponent, they understand the individual matchup, they understand what UMass really tries to do and likes to do."
The Minutemen, who upset No. 2 seed Hofstra, 13-12, on a last-second goal from redshirt senior midfielder Dan Muller in a semifinal Thursday night, scored one goal in each of the first two quarters via its man-up offense. But that stretch included a drought of 21:23 spanning the first two periods.
When Muller converted a pass from senior attackman Grant Consoletti just 1:36 into the third quarter, that was Massachusetts' first even-strength goal of the game, and pulled the team to within two goals at 5-3.
But Towson then put together a 4-0 run sparked by that goal from Lynch. The spurt also included a rare own-goal in that quarter when UMass junior long-stick midfielder Shane Rinkus flipped the ball backward to an empty net after senior goalkeeper D.J. Smith had vacated the crease to spark a transition opportunity.
The Minutemen got their second and final even-strength goal when Consoletti scored with 11 seconds remaining.
Senior attackman Ryan Drenner (Westminster) paced the Tigers with two goals and one assist, and Lynch (Boys' Latin) scored twice. Konen added two assists.
Sophomore Alex Woodall (St. Mary's) won eight of 16 faceoffs with three ground balls to accompany one goal, and Goodrich scored once, picked up five ground balls and caused one turnover.
Consoletti led UMass (7-8) with two goals and one assist, and Muller scored twice. Smith finished with 11 saves, but the Minutemen dropped to 1-3 in the CAA tournament finals with their lone championship coming in 2012.
"They were stout," UMass coach Greg Cannella said of Towson's defense. "Really did a nice job defensively on us, and their goalie played well."