UMass handles Towson, advances to CAA championship

By Stephen Sellner

Cade Belisle/Collegian
Cade Belisle/Collegian

Colin Fleming scored four goals and Will Manny dished out five assists as the No. 1 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team marched past Towson, 10-3, Wednesday night in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals at Garber Field.

Top-seeded UMass (14-0) will host No. 3 seed Drexel on Saturday night for the CAA championship.

From the start, it looked like the Tigers (7-8) had the Minutemen right where they wanted them. Towson slowed down the pace of the game with lengthy, cautious offensive possessions, which limited the chances UMass had on the attack and kept the game scoreless through most of the first period. On the opposite side of the field, the Tigers’ zone defense was giving the Minutemen fits.

But with 6.4 seconds left in the first, UMass got a big play from one of its biggest players to break the scoring drought.

Fleming, a 6-foot-6 midfielder, used his size and athleticism to bounce a Tigers defender off him just enough to create a shooting lane. Fleming used the space to rip a shot just under Towson goalkeeper Andrew Wascavage to put the Minutemen on the board, 1-0.

Fleming acknowledged that he was looking to use his size-advantage to benefit on the play.

“I’ve done it a couple times this year, tried to work on using my big frame to my advantage so I knew there was 10 seconds on the clock so … I think there was two guys that were trying to guard me so the only way to get them off is to knock the one into the other and shoot it,” he said.

UMass coach Greg Cannella said Fleming’s size and ability make him a difficult player to defend.

“If you have a big frame, if you have the skill that Colin has, if you have the athletic ability that Colin has, it’s definitely a plus,” said Cannella.

The goal gave UMass a lift going into the second as the Minutemen followed with five unanswered goals in the frame to take a 6-0 lead into halftime.

“We like to piggyback on something like that,” said Manny of Fleming’s first goal. “It’s goal to get us going.”

Fleming’s goal was reminiscent of the team’s first meeting of the season when Kyle Smith scored in the final seconds of the first half on April 7. The goal came just two seconds after Towson had cut UMass’ lead to 3-2 and ousted the Tigers’ momentum.

Towson coach Shawn Nadelen noted the similarity between the two goals.

“Very similar, definitely,” said Nadelen. “There’s no doubt about that.”

The Tigers started to get a little momentum going in the third period. Andrew Hodgson beat Minutemen goalkeeper Tim McCormack 28 seconds removed from halftime. And less than two minutes later, Sean Maguire netted a man-up goal to make it a 6-2 deficit.

Then, McCormack stepped up and made the save of the night. With Towson on yet another man-up opportunity, Matt Hughes was all alone with the UMass net-minder but McCormack challenged him and stoned his attempt that effectively killed off the penalty and put a halt to the Tigers’ run.

The Minutemen was strong in the man-down category, allowing one goal on 10 opportunities.

Cannella was frustrated that his team was in so many man-down situations. While it didn’t come back to haunt UMass, Cannella said he knew it could cost them later on.

“We were a little disappointed that we fouled 10 times in the game tonight,” he said. “Fortunately for us, it didn’t cost us the game but it could in the future.”

Art Kell added a hat trick in the game, while Smith added one of his own.

Senior defenseman Tom Celentani even got on the action, netting the first goal of his career after Manny faked a pass to Greg Rushing and found Celentani running towards the cage for the easy goal.

Cannella was happy to see Celentani get in on the scoring.

“Tommy’s had a great career here,” said Cannella. “He’s a senior now, [it’s] awesome for him to get that goal.”

The Minutemen will try to do something they didn’t do last year – win the CAA championship game at Garber Field. Last year, Delaware came in and took the title, beating UMass, 9-7, and leaving the Minutemen out of the NCAA tournament.

UMass will be looking for a different result this time around and after tonight’s performance, will be riding high heading into Saturday night.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Sellner.