Towson University defeated Drexel University in the 2017 CAA Men's Lacrosse Semifinal at Johnny Unitas Stadium. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun video)
To some men's lacrosse teams, being held to eight goals would be an emergency. For Towson, eight was more than enough.
The top-seeded Tigers complemented an uneven offensive effort with sterling play on defense and faceoffs to defeat No. 4 seed Drexel, 8-4, in a Colonial Athletic Association tournament semifinal at Johnny Unitas Stadium on Thursday evening.
No. 13 Towson (9-4), which has won the past two conference regular-season and tournament championships, advanced to the title game for the third year in a row and will face No. 3 seed Massachusetts (7-7) on Saturday at 1 p.m.
The Tigers, who entered the game ranked seventh in Division I on defense, flexed those muscles again. The Dragons (6-8) were held to more than six goals below their season average and did not score for 22:03 spanning the second and third quarters.
The starting attack of seniors Cole Shafer and Robert Frazee and freshman Reid Bowering combined to score just one goal on nine shots and one assist. Shafer, an All-CAA first-team selection, scored just once with 80 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Towson junior defenseman Sid Ewell, who had the assignment of marking Shafer, said the defense was buoyed by the play of sophomore faceoff specialist Alex Woodall (14-for-16) and senior goalkeeper Matt Hoy (seven saves).
"We were really just able to play within ourselves and really just trust one another," said Ewell, a CCBC-Essex graduate. "And when you're winning all of the faceoffs that Alex was doing, he really just takes all of the pressure off of us. And then when you have Hoy playing the way that he does, you can have a lot more trust."
Woodall was almost flawless on draws, overpowering Drexel's duo of freshman Jimmeh Koita (1-for-10) and junior Nabil Akl (1-for-6). The Annapolis native and St. Mary's graduate also scooped up a game-high nine ground balls to keep the possession battle heavily in the Tigers' favor.
"I planned on it," Woodall said of his dominant display. "To be honest, I just hoped for it. I know we work during the week."
With senior attackmen Ryan Drenner (one assist) and Joe Seider (one goal) having quiet showings, Towson got some much-needed help from its starting midfield. Senior Mike Lynch had two goals and one assist, senior Tyler Young (Arundel) scored twice, and sophomore Jon Mazza scored once.
"Our attack produces a lot obviously," said Lynch, a Forest Hill native and Boys' Latin graduate. "When we can initiate and draw slides and move it, it really opens up the offense. We were able to grind them down and win our individual matchups, which was key."
Sophomore midfielder Marshal King paced Drexel with two goals and one assist, and senior goalie Jimmy Joe Granito, a Loyola Maryland transfer, made a game-best 18 saves, including seven in the third quarter. But coach Brian Voelker said any hope of a comeback was dashed by the team's inability to win faceoffs against Woodall.
"It's hard to win when you don't have the ball," Voelker said. "You know coming into that their faceoff kid is really talented. The last time we played them, we had a little bit more success in the first half against them. In the second half, they kind of got to us. I think one of the reasons they beat us in the last game was they kept getting the ball. But we also made some mistakes. We didn't clear the ball real well, and we turned it over a little bit too much."
No. 3 seed Massachusetts 13, No. 2 seed Hofstra 12: Redshirt senior midfielder Dan Muller flung a shot from just across the midfield line as time expired to lift the Minutemen to a thrilling win in the second semifinal.
Massachusetts had led 10-4 midway through the third quarter before the Pride mounted a comeback, tying the game on senior attackman Josh Byrne's fifth goal of the game with 4:14 left in the fourth quarter. But Muller's fourth goal of the night propelled the Minutemen to their first title game appearance since 2015.