By MAT SCHLISSEL
Last Saturday, Coach Shawn Nadelen's Tiger lacrosse team was about to face their longest break of the season.
Thanks to Maryland deciding to cancel their series with Towson in October, the Tigers had an open date this past weekend, so they won't play until Tuesday, March 13 when they face Navy.
A loss to Mount St. Mary's last Saturday would have meant a 1-3 start after four games for the fifth straight season.
But thanks to redshirt junior Ian Mills (6-3, 195), senior Matt Lamon (6-0, 175) (below) and sophomore attackman Thomas DeNapoli (5-11, 185), the Tigers were able to come back from a 8-7 deficit in the fourth quarter, scoring three goals in a little over a two-minute span late in the game.
"Glad to win that one," said Nadelen. "It was definitely a test for us. A very skilled quick-striking team with the face-off guy that they had, we knew we'd be up for up for a big test today. They did a great job of responding when we were up by a few goals. That's a big testament to Mount St. Mary's. I'm glad our guys buckled down and re-focused. We pulled it together at the end."
Towson came into the game with a 6-1 record over the Mountaineers with their only loss coming to 1975 (1-0). But this was a different Mount team than the one they faced in 2011 in Emmitsburg, when Tigers came out ahead, 11-3.
The Mount defeated Delaware two weeks ago, 12-10. This was the same Delaware team that defeated #8 Villanova, 13-9 on Saturday and had earlier defeated #12 Bucknell in overtime.
Against the Mountaineers, Towson had a 7-4 lead but went nearly 20 minutes before scoring the game-tying goal at the 5:13 mark. Issues at the Face-Off X, turnovers and clears were the main culprits.
The Tigers were successful on just 12 of 21 clear attempts and have only cleared 75% of their attempts this year. Last year, they cleared 84% of their attempts.
"It's a little bit about nerves," said senior defenseman John Kenyon. "They fly all over the place. We knew they'd be flying around riding the ball. We knew their work ethic was going to be tremendous. They never give up. That's one of their better attributes. It was just us making dumb mistakes we shouldn't have made. In the end, we just buckled down. We finally got it together in the last two clears."
Towson also had issues with Mount St. Mary's middie Jon Marsalese, who won 8 of 10 face-offs in the first half, including all six draws in the second quarter. The Tigers were able to overcome the problems at the X and still managed to lead 5-4 at the half.
But when they cleared just one of five attempts and won 3 of 6 face-offs in the third period, the Mount tied the game up and then took the lead with 9:03 left in the game, on an unassisted goal from Andrew Scalley.
In the third quarter, Nadelen turned to Mills to take face-offs. Mills (below) won 23 of 54 face-off attempts in 2011 after returning from a knee injury that cost him to miss the 2010 season. Mills had played sparingly in the first three games, biding his time and waiting for the call. When his number was called, the Centreville, Va. native came through, winning 7 off 11 face-offs.
"Tremendous," said Nadelen about Mills' work on face-offs. "That allowed us to be better in the second half with a team that was scratching and fighting against us. We talked yesterday how he didn't get in against Loyola when we were getting pushed around at the face-off X. I knew that was a mistake I made and I didn't want to make that mistake again. He had his opportunity and he seized it and really helped this team win this game."
Once the Tigers settled down and started gaining possession on the offensive end of the field, they capitalized. With 5:13 left, Lamon scored his second goal of the game and the season on a feed from freshman Robby Zoppo to tie the game. Lamon, a three-year starter who sat out the fall with an injury, didn't start the first three games but received the nod on Saturday vs. the Mount. The attackman from Annapolis now has 28 career goals.
Junior Matt Hughes, the quarterback of the offense, scored his first goal of the game at 4:00, on a dive near the crease. That turned out to be the game-winner and 1:04 later, DeNapoli added an insurance goal for his third of the game.
The sophomore middie from East Rockaway, N.Y. earned CAA All-Rookie honors in 2011, but scored just four goals on 11 shots. An outstanding athlete, he can also play the defensive end of the field.
But this year, DeNapoli already has 11 shots and 7 goals (63% shooting percentage) and is second on the team with 9 points. So what's the difference this season for DeNapoli?
"Just had another year under my belt," said DeNapoli. "I was a little nervous coming in as a freshman in the first few games. I've had some good chances where they weren't able to slide and I just beat may man one-on-one."
The Tigers have had a little over a week to prepare for Navy. They hope to get freshman Justin Mabus (1g, 5a) back from an injury. So far, the offense hasn't relied on one player and while Nadelen wishes there were more shots and fewer turnovers, the Tigers have shot 37.4% in 2012 compared to 23.7% in 2011.
"He's done a great job for us in recent games," said Nadelen about Mabus. "That's a big part of our offense. That's a nice thing about the system we have. They know what we need to do. We just don't rely on Tom or Matt to beat their guy. The system runs efficiently when the ball moves off of hard dodges, drawing slides and attacking when the defense is vulnerable. We hve a pretty good system down pat. We have do a better job of generating more shots because our shooting percentage is good. We can't just take dumb shots and need to continue to let the offense generate shots.":
Towson is 2-2 going into the break and while there are still question marks, the Tigers have some time to work things out.
"I told the guys in the locker room that this is a big test for us," said Nadelen. "A strong Navy team is coming up. Our focus has to be intense all 10 days. We have to understand what's in front of us. (The break) couldn't come at a better time for us with the injuries that we have right now with Justin Mabus and some other guys to get them back on the field and healthy."
The Tigers host Navy on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.