Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass defeats Towson in CAA championship game

Minutemen win 12-8

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(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

By Thomas Johnston, Assistant Sports Editor

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The game clock froze with 43 seconds remaining. Towson had called a timeout, but it had little meaning to the game itself. The Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team held a 12-8 lead, and the Tigers would need a miracle to win their fourth straight Colonial Athletic Association title.

The number 43 holds major significance with the UMass lacrosse program. The last player to take the field wearing it was Eric Sopracasa in 1999. Sopracasa, who is referred to as Soup, died 19 years ago on this day, May 5th, after being struck in the chest with a lacrosse ball during practice.

The entire Minutemen bench took notice when they realized how much time remained in the game.

“43 is a great number,” goalie Sean Sconone said. “It’s Soup day. Coach Cannella told us in the huddle ‘Look up at the clock. It’s 43. It’s meant to be.’

“We all got the chills. I’m getting the chills just talking about it now.”

Those final 43 seconds would dwindle off the clock, and with five seconds left defenseman Luc Valenza picked up a ground ball and shot it straight into the air. Sconone turned back to look at the clock, almost to make sure it was all real.

When he turned back to the field, the entire team rushed towards him in a frenzy, as Sconone’s 16 saves, which earned him MVP of the tournament, helped lead the Minutemen to their second CAA championship victory, a 12-8 win over Towson.

“It was a sigh of relief,” Sconone said. “They’re a great team and we played them really well. We’ve been working for it since last September and it’s just a great feeling.”

On a day that brings on such emotion for the program, today’s win was that much special for UMass coach Greg Cannella. Cannella talked to the team the night before about Sopracasa.

“They have to understand the tradition,” Cannella said. “If there’s anything else connected to it, they have to understand that for sure. It’s our job as coaches to bring that message.”

Just as the Minutemen didn’t quit when they opened the season 1-4, there was no panic when they fell down 2-0 to the Tigers. UMass answered with five goals in a row to take control of the game, with goals coming from freshman Chris Connolly, Jake Lisauskas, Billy Philpott and Isaac Paparo. The scoring started when the Minutemen got their transition game going, an area they have excelled in throughout the year.

Towson outplayed UMass in the second quarter, scoring two goals in a row to cut the Minutemen lead to 5-4. The Tigers had a chance to tie it right before the halftime buzzer sounded, but Sconone came up with a save to preserve the UMass lead.

“Big save,” Cannella said. “We weren’t great at the end of quarters in this game. Sean was good all day. Seven (saves) in the first half, nine in the second half. It was an awesome day, it’s why he was the MVP.”

Towson scored the opening goal of the second half to tie it up, but that would be the closest the Tigers would get. The Minutemen scored three in a row, all goals assisted by Connolly. The final minute of the third quarter was fast paced, with Jean-Luc Chetner capitalizing with 32 seconds left to cut the UMass lead to 8-6.

Noah Rak won the next faceoff, raced down and fed the ball to Buddy Carr who buried the shot just eight seconds later. 15 seconds later, after a faceoff win, Towson scored again, off the stick of Johnny Giuffreda.

Connolly scored the first goal of the fourth quarter, sprinting in front of the net and drilling it into the top right corner of the goal, giving the freshman a hat-trick. Giuffreda followed it with a goal of his own but the Minutemen scored the next two goals to take a four goal lead with 7:39 remaining.

The UMass defense stood strong, not allowing another goal the rest of the way to secure the championship.

“For the guys that returned this year, we have a picture in the locker room of last year, there’s a little bit of a sour taste in the guys mouths. To be able to play at home, you could say rematch against Towson is pretty special. The outcome was where we wanted to be.”

The Minutemen will move on to the NCAA tournament, with the selection show Sunday night to reveal their opponent.

Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.

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