Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s lacrosse topped by Towson in CAA title game

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

Riding the momentum of its upset win over No. 1 seed Fairfield Thursday night, the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team appeared to be in a favorable position to win its first Colonial Athletic Association title since 2012 in Saturday’s title game against Towson.

But Tigers midfielder Justin Mabus put an abrupt end to the Minutemen’s championship hopes with a tie-breaking behind-the-back goal with one minute, 50 seconds left in regulation to power Towson to a 9-8 victory.

The decisive tally came after UMass goalie Zach Oliveri stopped a shot, causing the ball to carom in front of the net. Minutemen midfielder Ryan Izzo then failed to pick up the ground ball, allowing Mabus to bury the game-winner.

“He’s the captain, a leader of the team and he just made a tremendous play,” Oliveri said of Mabus’ goal. “There was a big scrum in front of the goal and by the time I told myself to be ready for anything, he just put it over his shoulder and through my legs.”

Mabus’ goal followed two consecutive UMass scores to tie the game at the 3:36 mark in the fourth quarter. It was the second time in the half the Minutemen (5-10, 2-3 CAA) came back from a multi-goal deficit.

“Just keep fighting, that’s been one of our mottos all season,” UMass attacker Brendan Hegarty said. “We did that today but unfortunately (Mabus) made a good play and they won.”

The Minutemen found themselves playing catch-up early on as the Tigers (11-5, 3-2 CAA) opened the game’s scoring with three tallies in the first eight minutes. UMass trailed 5-2 at the half.

But the Minutemen came out of the break strong, scoring the first four goals of the third quarter to take its first lead of the day at 6-5.

“It was a hard fought game,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said. “It was a typical CAA game, back and forth.”

Oliveri backstopped a Minutemen defense that allowed the UMass attack to fight its way back against a similarly defensive minded Tigers team. The redshirt junior made 14 saves on 23 shots on goal, making for an active day in cage.

“Zach was excellent,” Cannella said. “He made the saves he needed to make and made stellar saves as well, especially inside, which kept us in the game.”

Oliveri and the Minutemen defense were tested early and often as UMass struggled in the possession battle. Towson handily maintained the advantage in faceoff wins (14-to-6), ground balls (27-to-12) and shots (40-to-27).

Hegarty added that when the Minutemen did possess the ball in the offensive zone, Towson’s versatile defense – which allowed a conference-best 7.35 goals per game this year – posed problems, especially in the first half.

“They pack it in, they play some zone and they have some skilled guys,” Hegarty said.

Hegarty was one of three UMass players who recorded two goals Saturday. He was joined by Dan Muller and Gianni Bianchin while seniors Andrew Sokol and Grant Whiteway netted the other two goals in their final collegiate games.

Meanwhile, Joe Seider led the Tigers’ attack with a hat trick Saturday. Mabus and Greg Cuccinello tacked on two goals apiece while Tyler White made eight saves in goal.

“(Seider’s) a good shooter,” Cannella said of the sophomore attacker. “He’s a first-teamer and he’s going to be a load to handle over the next two years.”

Despite Saturday’s loss, Cannella said simply advancing to the title game was a positive sign for a Minutemen team that started 0-5 in 2015 and struggled to find consistency throughout the regular season.

“You give our guys credit for hanging in there and persevering. A lot of teams could have quit but we didn’t,” Cannella said. “That’s the good thing about being involved in a conference like the CAA. You have a shot regardless of what you do in the regular season.”

Hegarty added that this year’s tournament experience was helpful for a young UMass roster that fielded 11 true freshmen in 2015. The Minutemen will graduate only six seniors.

“It’s a big step for this team going forward,” Hegarty said. “The battles that we had all season long made us a stronger group and down the stretch I think it showed.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.

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