For the third straight time, the Tigers nipped an opponent by one goal in a CAA postseason game, edging Drexel for an 8-7 comeback victory Friday afternoon at the Tiger Soccer Complex. Last season, Towson beat Drexel, 12-11, in the semifinal and went on to slip past James Madison, 8-7, for the championship.
This time, the top-seeded Tigers (9-8) scored twice in the final three minutes and their defense did the rest to ensure the chance to defend their title Sunday at 1 p.m. against Hofstra. The Pride, a 6-4 semifinal upset winner over James Madison, is the only CAA team to beat the Tigers this season — of course by one goal, 6-5. The champion gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Towson's Jackie LaMonica scored her career-high fourth goal of the game to tie it at 7 with 2:58 left. Freshman Breanna Hamm won the next draw, setting off a series of nifty Tigers passes that ended in Paige Duncan's assist to Oliva Turner for the game-winning goal 11 seconds later.
Hamm won the next draw, too, but the Tigers turned it over with 1:38 left. The Dragons (11-7) looked for an opening to goal but never found one against Towson's stingy backer zone defense.
"Luckily, the past four years I've been in that situation and my upperclassmen have also," said Towson team captain Alexa Demski, a Loch Raven graduate and the CAA Co-Defensive Player of the Year. "It just takes not fouling, maybe not taking as many risky options and kind of just doing a more closer-in defense and being smart to kind of let them run their plays and run out the time."
Early on, Drexel's defense did the job, holding Towson without a shot for more than eight minutes while the Dragons took a 2-0 lead. The Dragons allowed a conference-low 8.23 goals per game this season, but LaMonica figured out how to beat them with 13:39 left in the half.
The speedy Hereford graduate raced through the arc to hit back-to-back goals within 36 seconds. Co-CAA Player of the Year Ashleigh Rohrback then dished out the first of her three assists to Laura Zinkand for an extra-man goal and a 3-2 lead. LaMonica used her feet again, racing about three-quarters of the field after a Drexel turnover, to give the Tigers a 4-2 lead with 7:51 left in the half.
"I think we were caught off guard by their pressure defense because it was definitely different from the past game," LaMonica said, referencing the Tigers' 14-8 win over the Dragons on April 1.
"They were a lot tighter on their slides this time and a lot more efficient on sliding, and they did a much better job of doubling right away, but once we were able to figure out what their defense was doing, we were able to adjust and find the back of the net."
Towson goalie Kelsea Donnelly, who finished with five saves, made two terrific stops late in the half to send the Tigers into the break with a 5-4 lead.
The Tigers, however, committed 30 fouls, including five that drew yellow cards, and the Dragons took advange of two of those extra-man opportunties to score the first two goals of the second half before Rohrback again fed Zinkand to tie at 6 about 10 minutes into the half.
The teams played through 10 minutes of defensive standoff before Drexel's Amanda Norcini scored her second goal, on a free position, for a 7-6 lead with 9:49 left.
Drexel goalie Teresha Bradley, who had six saves, stopped a couple of Tigers shots before LaMonica, the sister-in-law of Towson coach Sonia LaMonica, raced in for the tying goal.
The Tigers were seeded first in the tournament despite tying James Madison for the regular-season championship. Towson's 16-9 win over the Dukes last month gave them the right to host for the third straight year.
"It's tough when you come to the tournament and you've got the target on your back when you're the No. 1 seed," said Sonia LaMonica, the CAA Coach of the Year. "Everyone's going to give you their best game and part of what's great about this conference, no matter who's in, it always seems to be pulling teeth. It's a battle, but that's what makes it great lacrosse. It certainly makes the win feel great."
D 4 3 — 7
T 5 3 — 8
Goals: D—Norcini 2, Joran, Maiden, Kopenhaver, Hartke, Rudloff; T—LaMonica 4, Turner 2, Zinkand 2. Assists: D—Joran, Maiden, Watts; T—Rohrback 3, Duncan. Saves: D—Bradley 6; T—Donnelly 5.