The last time Jimmy Joe Granito stood in the cage at Johnny Unitas Stadium turning aside shots from Towson, the goalkeeper was a freshman at Loyola Maryland and had replaced Jack Runkel in the final two minutes of 14-9 loss for the Tigers on Feb. 20, 2013.
On Saturday, Granito was back in the net, but this time as a redshirt junior for Drexel. Although Granito and the Dragons found themselves on the losing end of an 11-7 outcome against No. 8 Towson, he stood out with a career-high-tying 16 saves.
Granito, who transferred from the Greyhounds after 2013 and sat out the 2014 campaign, stopped 15 saves in the first three quarters and surrendered just five goals, but he couldn’t prevent the floodgates from opening in the final period during which the Tigers scored six goals on nine shots.
“I think I was definitely seeing the ball today,” Granito said afterward. “But I also think our defense stepped up. They were putting Towson’s guys in places to give me shots that I could see. Our guys played hard. Fourth quarter, we kind of slipped up a bit. There was a couple I could have had to help keep us in it.”
Towson junior attackman Joe Seider, who took 11 shots to score three goals, was impressed by how Granito played.
“He played really well,” said Seider (Hereford). “He’s got quick hands. I think what he really does well is get his body in front of shots.”
Granito, who entered the game ranked ninth in Division I in saves per game at 11.8, raised his season average to 12.2, and Drexel needed every one of his stops to remain competitive with Towson.
“I thought Jim played very well,” Drexel coach Brian Voelker said. “I don’t think we gave him a chance in the fourth quarter to make some of the same saves he made in the first three. We put him in position to make some really good saves, and he stepped up and did those things. We’ve asked him to do that all year. He’s had a lot of saves in all of our games. He’s stepped up and had a great year so far, and we’ve needed him to step up.”
Circling back to “Three Things to Watch” …
1) Drexel’s penchant for penalties. The Dragons had entered the contest ranking 22nd in the country in man-down defense, but owning the fifth-most man-down situations among teams ranked in the top 25. But Drexel committed just two penalties – tying a season low – and killed off both of Towson’s extra-man opportunities in the second quarter.
“Our man-down’s been pretty good,” Voelker said. “Defensively, I wish we would have played better in the fourth quarter. Part of that is you get tired. Part of it is the lack of winning faceoffs and all of that stuff, but then we turned around and won some faceoffs in the fourth quarter. And then we kind of don’t do the right thing and give the ball right back to them. We had to play a better game to beat a team like Towson. They’re ranked in the top 10 for a reason. We had to play much sharper than we did today. We didn’t do those things, and it came back to haunt us in the fourth quarter.”
2) Towson’s favor on faceoffs. Drexel threw four different faceoff specialists onto the field, but the tactic hardly worked against Alec Burckley. The junior set a career high in faceoff wins (16) and a season high in ground balls (nine). He got help from junior long-stick midfielder Tyler Mayes (four ground balls) and senior midfielder Ben McCarty (three ground balls) on the wings, but Burckley’s 5-for-5 performance in the third quarter ignited the Tigers’ climb out of a 5-3 deficit.
“I think that’s a huge part of the game for us,” Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said of Burckley’s showing. “That provided us opportunity to come out with the win. To be able to have possession time and more opportunities is great. Unfortunately, we weren’t capitalizing as much as we wanted to. So the more we could get, the better.”
3) Drexel’s absence of assists. The Dragons’ season average of 4.1 assists wasn’t helped by their lone assist from senior midfielder Mason Pynn in the second quarter. Voelker said the offense’s inability to move the ball against Towson’s defense helped explain why junior attackman and leading scorer Cole Shafer (19 goals and six assists) finished with just one goal on three shots and zero assists.
“He’s much better when the ball’s moving around,” Voelker said of Shafer. "The way Towson plays, they don’t let you do that stuff. They let the ball kind of die in your stick. They dare you to beat them and they make you beat them one-on-one, and their short-sticks are really talented. [Redshirt junior Jack Adams] is a beast out there and [freshman Zach Goodrich] is really talented. Those guys all play really tough. They make you run by those guys, and they make you make contested plays against those guys. We had one assist today, and that’s kind of the way Towson plays defense.”