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Towson men’s lacrosse lets 3-goal lead, spot in CAA tournament slip away in 12-11 loss to No. 13 Drexel

After absorbing a 12-11 setback to No. 13 Drexel on Saturday afternoon, members of the Towson men’s lacrosse team lingered on the field at Johnny Unitas Stadium. Much of the hesitation likely had to do with the realization that the season had ended.

The Tigers’ inability to protect a 9-6 lead through the first three quarters contributed to a loss before an announced 824 that dropped them to 6-8 overall, 3-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association, and fifth place in the league standings. Although the four-team field for next week’s conference tournament was determined by a selection committee composed of a trio of athletic directors in Delaware’s Christine Rawak, Fairfield’s Paul Schlickmann, and Towson’s own Tim Leonard, the Tigers’ absence from the tournament was confirmed several hours after Saturday’s result.

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“Not the outcome we wanted,” junior attackman James Avanzato said. “It stings, but it is what it is.”

Some of the heartache stemmed from honoring 14 seniors, fifth-year seniors and redshirt juniors before the game. Even afterward, the players and coaches returned to the stadium to pay tribute for almost an hour to the group and their families, who sat in the stands.

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“I feel for our guys,” coach Shawn Nadelen said. “They deserve better, they deserve to keep playing, but we weren’t able to get that done. So I’m really feeling for these guys right now.”

The one-goal loss was Towson’s fourth in seven games this spring. The thin line between clinching a berth in the CAA tournament and missing it for the first time during Nadelen’s 10-year tenure as the head coach became even more pronounced when considering that four of the team’s five losses in the conference were by a combined five goals.

“That was our season in a nutshell — not just our conference but our nonconference,” Nadelen said. “Tight games, overtime games, there’s no doubt that one more of those or two more of those, we’re in a much better place. But that’s on me. I didn’t do a good enough job preparing our guys so that we were be able to make enough plays during the course of the game to sway those games our way. We had a couple of them go our way, but not enough as we needed.”

Momentum appeared to shift the Tigers’ way Saturday when they sprinted to a 6-2 advantage at halftime and then a 9-6 lead after the third quarter. But the Dragon won seven of nine faceoffs and scored five of the period’s first six goals to assume an 11-10 lead with 4:18 remaining — their first of the game.

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Senior midfielder Carson Gaeger, a Finksburg resident and St. Paul’s graduate, fired in a shot from up top to lift Towson into an 11-11 tie with 2:58 left. But after winning the ensuing faceoff, the Tigers turned the ball over, and Drexel called a timeout with 29.6 seconds remaining to set up a play.

After the timeout, junior midfielder Jack Mulcahy carried the ball against Towson sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder Reece Potter up field from goal-line extended left, spun back toward the cage, and tucked his shot into the bottom right corner of the net with 11 seconds left in regulation.

“Just wanted to get a shorty behind, and we really liked our matchups,” said Mulcahy, who registered all three of his goals and one assist in the second half. “So [offensive coordinator Steven Boyle] gave me the go-ahead, and I was able to make it happen. … I don’t dodge specifically looking for one thing. I just take what the defense is giving me. He kind of overplayed topside. So I was able to get under there.”

In addition to the discrepancy on faceoffs, the Tigers were outshot 16-6 and picked up only five ground balls to the Dragons’ 10 in the fourth quarter.

“I think we needed to make better decisions,” said Avanzato, a Maryland transfer who led all scorers with five points on three goals and two assists. “We knew what they were going to do. The scout team did a great job all week of showing us what they were going to do, and we just needed to be smarter with it.”

Besides Avanzato, fifth-year senior attackman Brody McLean added one goal and two assists, and redshirt junior goalkeeper Shane Brennan made a game-high 14 saves.

In addition to Mulcahy, Drexel (8-2, 6-2 CAA) — which extended its winning streak to seven games and locked up the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament — got three goals from graduate student attackman Reid Bowering, a 14-of-26, six-ground ball showing from senior faceoff specialist Jimmeh Koita, and 11 stops from junior goalie Ross Blumenthal, a Baltimore resident and Friends graduate.

Coach Brian Voelker, who also praised freshman midfielder Luke Tomack for scoring two goals in the final frame, said the players did not panic despite the three-goal deficit after the first three quarters.

“We kept plugging away,” he said. “We said to the guys, ‘We’re not going to win it right now. There’s a lot of lacrosse to be played.’ We just had to play hard, get ground balls, play better defense, play hard on the offensive end, kind of control that middle of the field, and our guys came out in the fourth quarter and obviously did that stuff.”

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