Towson grinds way to title, NCAA spot

Horrigan, Berry play through pain as Tigers drive past Hofstra, 13-11

College Lacrosse

May 06, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Its goalkeeper was back despite a badly sprained shoulder that did not allow him to lift his left arm without feeling sharp pain. Its faceoff specialist refused to leave despite a pulled left hamstring that basically rendered him a one-legged man.

But neither injuries nor a determined, visiting Hofstra team were going to prevent Towson University from guaranteeing itself its first NCAA tournament trip in five years.

The Tigers shook off a slow start and an injury to faceoff man Justin Berry, put together a decisive, second-half run with help from rejuvenated goalie John Horrigan, then cruised in the final minutes to a 13-11 victory over Hofstra to win the America East Conference tournament before 570 at Minnegan Stadium yesterday.

The victory sent the Tigers, who were 3-10 and the fourth-place team in the America East last year, into the NCAAs for the first time since 1996. Towson could be among the eight seeded teams when the 12-team field is announced tonight. The Tigers may have knocked Hofstra out of the action.

The Tigers (12-3), who have matched their highest, single-season victory total since moving to Division I in 1980, earned a national tournament spot as an automatic qualifier.

"This is a culmination of all of the hard work we've put in, year in and year out. It hasn't really sunk in yet, but it's definitely a great feeling," said Horrigan, who was considered doubtful for yesterday's game after suffering what Towson coach Tony Seaman believed was a separated shoulder in the first quarter of Wednesday's 18-7 victory over Vermont in the semifinals.

Horrigan actually suffered a sprained joint, which left his shoulder bruised and tender.

The goaltender, a four-year starter who had missed only two games in his career and had lived through three losing seasons before this year's reversal, took painkilling shots on Friday and before yesterday's game. Then, he took a nasty shot on the shoulder midway through the first quarter during a loose-ball scramble near the crease.

He proceeded to finish with 15 saves, then said the pain helped him keep his fundamentals intact.

"It actually made me watch the ball even better. I saved it with my stick as much as possible," he said. "I had no doubts I was going to play. As a four-year starter, there was no way I wasn't going to play. This is the last game I'm ever going to play on this turf."

The Tigers, who scored the game's first goal and did not lead again for another 36 minutes, used a 4-0 run that began midway through the third quarter with goals by attackmen Brad Reppert and Ryan Obloj that made it 9-8 Towson with 6:14 left.

Obloj finished the run to give Towson an 11-8 lead six seconds into the fourth period. The Tigers never led by fewer than two goals after that.

Towson, which completed a sweep of Hofstra, got huge games from Reppert (four goals, four assists) and Obloj (four goals).

The Tigers overcame eight penalties, numerous defensive breakdowns and unforced turnovers in the first half, survived great performances by opposing attackmen Tom Kessler and Scott Dooley - seven goals and three assists between them - and took advantage of an ankle injury that limited Doug Shanahan, the star midfielder of Hofstra (9-6).

"I never thought the game was getting away from us, but I kept thinking, when are we going to make a run?" said Seaman, who watched Towson fall behind 3-1 before clawing its way back to a 6-6 tie at halftime.

"We're a much better second-half team, God knows why. This was a great day for us. We played hard, we beat a good team and we're in [the NCAAs]."

Towson's most inspirational effort probably came from Berry in the faceoff circle. A year removed from major knee surgery, Berry felt the hamstring pop early in the contest, had his leg wrapped while Zak Smith took over briefly, then resumed his work, despite moving in obvious discomfort as the game dragged on.

Hofstra 4 2 2 3 - 11

Towson 3 3 4 3 - 13

Goals: H-Kessler 4, Dooley 3, Hananel, Clash, Femminella, Shannahan; T-Reppert 4, Obloj 4, Cornett2, Tankersley, Monaco, Campbell. Assists: H-Kessler 2, Clash 2, Tierney, Hananel, Polanco, Dooley, Defendini; T-Reppert 4, Monaco 2, Cornett, Meyran, Adams, Campbell. Saves: H-Alaimo 15; T-Horrigan 2 .

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