Towson stuns Denver 10-9 in first-round thriller

Photo courtesy of Aaron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

The University of Denver Pioneers lacrosse team will not defend their 2015 National Title. Despite Trevor Baptiste’s herculean 20-of-22 effort at the faceoff X, the University of Denver will not participate in Championship Weekend for just the second time since 2011. The 2016 DU lacrosse team is done and the 2016 Towson Tigers will move on to face Loyola in the quarterfinal round in Columbus, Ohio.

Baptiste played like a man on a mission to singlehandedly take the Tigers down. Unfortunately, his offensive teammates wouldn’t cooperate. By halftime, the Pioneers had turned the ball over nine times.

“Trevor was just fantastic as he always is,” DU head coach Bill Tierney said. “We just couldn’t seem to get it going. We couldn’t beat anybody early.”

Passes went over Pioneers’ heads and the ball just wouldn’t stay in DU’s sticks. As uncharacteristic as this is for the Denver offense, Towson came into the day ranked second in the country in total defense, allowing an average of just seven goals per game.

By halftime, the turnover discrepancy was the reason the Tigers were ahead on the scoreboard. If it wasn’t for two late man-up goals by the Pioneers, it’s entirely possible that the halftime score would have been 6-1 in favor of the Tigers rather than 6-3.

“You’ve got to give Towson credit,” Tierney said. “Some of those were guys trying too hard. A couple of our guys felt like they had their guy beat, got inside, and all of a sudden they got a stick check on them and the ball goes down.”

In short, with the exception of the last three or four minutes, the Pioneers didn’t play well in the first half. From turnovers to missed opportunities (Zach Miller hit two posts), Denver just couldn’t do anything against the Tigers’ stingy defense.

In the second half, as the sun started to peek through the clouds for the first time, the Pioneers offense looked like it was finally waking up and imposing its will on the Tigers defense. Though Towson was up 7-5 heading into the fourth quarter, a goal from Colton Jackson with just 1.5 seconds left in the third woke the crowd up and gave the crimson and gold some hope.

Towson goalie, Tyler White was the story of the second half, making nine of his 13 total saves in the final thirty minutes, including six in the fourth quarter alone. Despite giving up two early goals in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter to allow the Pioneers to draw even at seven, White stood on his head to keep Denver from gaining the lead. Whether it was with a kick or a stick, White did what he had to do to keep Towson in control of the game.

Less than a minute after Connor Donahue tied the game at seven, White made a key stick save on a great shot from the Pioneers to keep the game tied. After Towson cleared, Spencer Parks scored on a defensive lapse in front of goalie Alex Ready to regain the lead for the Tigers.

“I didn’t feel [any worry] from our guys,” Towson head coach Shawn Nadelen said when asked about the atmosphere on the sideline after DU tied it at seven. “Speaking to our experience and our veteran group, we just knew we needed the ball. When we did get it to our offense, they were able to extend [the lead].”

Two Towson goals later, the Pioneers were down three goals with just 3:46 left in the game. Thanks to excellent defense and smothering offensive pressure, Connor Cannizzaro and Zach Miller closed the gap to 10-9 with 13 seconds left.

Despite Baptiste winning the ensuing faceoff, DU turned the ball over on an errant pass and Towson ran off the rest of the clock to secure the upset and earn a trip to Ohio in the quarterfinal round.

“You always have to be careful when you come back from deep,” Tierney explained. “The psychology is always that when you get even, ‘ok we’re here, now it’s going to go our way.’ It doesn’t work like that. Usually, when you make that long run back and you tie it up, usually there is some kind of letdown and that’s what happened today.”

The Pioneers dominated groundballs 34-22 and all but two faceoffs. Without looking at the scoreboard, those stats would indicate that the Pioneers won this game by at least seven or eight goals. Instead, they lost by one because Towson wouldn’t let the Pioneers hold onto the ball.

“It’s very rare that we lose two in a row here at Peter Barton Stadium,” Tierney said. “I felt like we just couldn’t get over that hump. We just couldn’t do it.”

Be sure to keep up with LetsGoDU over the next couple of weeks as we will put out a lacrosse season recap and begin looking ahead to the 2017 squad.