Just when Towson thought it had stuck its flag in the ground as a renewed member of the country's elite college lacrosse programs, it ran into a hellbent Ohio State team on the same mission Sunday.
Playing in a blustery Ohio Stadium where the 2,800 on hand offered only a hint of the home-field enthusiasm the football Buckeyes enjoy in front of 105,000 in the fall, Ohio State nevertheless prevailed 16-6 in the first-round game of the NCAA lacrosse tournament. The No. 3-seed Buckeyes dominated the second and third quarters, blowing open a game that had been tied 2-2 at one point in the first, on the way to quarterfinal match with Cornell — an upset winner over Maryland — on Saturday at Byrd Stadium in College Park.
"Congratulations to Ohio State, they played a terrific game," said Towson coach Shawn Nadelen, whose team was making its first NCAA appearance since 2007. "They're obviously worthy of where they are seeded, and what we expected to see."
OSU sophomore Jesse King, with four goals, led a blistering offensive attack that heated up late in the first quarter as the Buckeyes leaped from that 2-2 tie to an 8-4 halftime lead. With the school's career-leading goal scorer, senior attacker Logan Schuss, and freshman Carter Brown also contributing three goals each, the triple hat trick was too much for the Towson defense to handle.
As for the Tigers (10-8), Nadelen said they were prepared to see Ohio State fall into a zone defense after opening up in a man-to-man look. The problem was, Towson and its leading scorer Thomas DeNapoli couldn't solve the zone.
"It's frustrating when you come out in an NCAA tournament game and don't really execute anything that you worked hard on and for a large part of the season," Nadelen said.
Towson's Andrew Hodgson did get a hat trick, but his three goals did little to compensate for the shutout of DeNapoli.
"We talked about defending [DeNapoli] with seven guys all week. It wasn't going to be one guy," Ohio State coach Nick Myers said. "A goal scorer like that is not someone you keep off the board very often.
"We think we see one of the nation's best goal scorers every day in practice," he said, referring to Schuss.
The idea was to make DeNapoli, lethal with his left-handed shot, have to shoot right-handed if he wanted to score. A frustrated DeNapoli had one assist, but took just four shots.
Myers said from his vantage point, "the turning point in the game was in the third quarter" when Ohio State won all five faceoffs on the way to dominating that stat 19-5 for the game.
"We started to stack possessions on top of each other," Myers said. "We found a rhythm."
The Tigers had still been in it somewhat near the end of the first half when a controversial ruling on an Ohio State missed shot left the Buckeyes with the ball.
Towson players at first thought the time had expired on Ohio State's 30-second mandate to take a shot, and that it should have been Towson's ball. They seemed to be lining up for that when Brown, heeding the official's call, scooped and fired to Turner Evans in front of the goal. Towson goalie Andrew Wascavage charged toward Evans, leaving the goal wide open. The shot was easy, putting the Buckeyes up 8-4 at the break.
"I don't think the communication with the referees was clear, especially from the one guy who was closest to the box," Nadelen said.
Then came Ohio State's 4-1 domination of the third quarter, the Tigers not scoring from 2:06 of the second quarter to 2:52 of the third. The Buckeyes defense was smothering in that stretch.
"We knew one of the biggest keys coming into the game defensively was to match their toughness, because they have a good reputation of being a very mentally and physically tough team," said Ohio State freshman defenseman Joe Meurer, a Towson native and McDonogh graduate whose steal and dish to a dashing midfielder Dominique Alexander late in the second quarter set up Alexander's goal. "They also talk a lot of trash on the sideline, so we had to keep our focus during that as well and not get too hot-headed."
Towson's frustration boiled over in the last two minutes when Dan Livingston was cited for three penalties as he hacked away at Alexander, playing keep away with the ball. The referee threw his flag twice, then his cap as he saw the infractions, leaving fans to wonder what he might toss next if he saw another.
Then with 11 seconds left, Towson's John Fennessy was cited for two transgressions as he vented against Ohio State's Patrick Riffee.
Twenty minutes after the game was over, though, Nadelen was looking at the bigger picture.
"It's frustrating [to lose], but I'm extremely proud of our team this year," Nadelen said. "I'm extremely proud of how they competed. … We didn't start strong at the beginning of the season, but we finished strong and put us in position to be one of 16 teams to have a chance to win the national championship.
"I don't think there is anybody out there that gave us that chance going into the season, and I am proud of our guys believing in themselves to get us to this point, and put Towson lacrosse back into the conversation to being a top team in the country."