PHILADELPHIA – Towson (8-7) and No. 16 Drexel (11-4) went down to the wire in their Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament semifinal before the Dragons’ Ryan Belka scored the game winner in the first overtime to send Drexel to the title game with an 11-10 victory over Towson on Vidas Field Saturday afternoon.
“I’m proud of the way our guys regrouped after that two-goal spurt [Drexel] had,” said Head Coach Shawn Nadelen. “During the timeout we just told them to slow down, take a breath and they did. We came back and made some plays, but we didn’t win the ground ball game and the face-offs [Drexel won 19-of-23] were key.”
Junior Greg Cuccinello’s four points (3g, 1a) led the Tigers. Classmate Ben McCarty added two goals, while freshman Joe Seider contributed a goal and two assists. Ben McIntosh and Cole Shafer each had four goals for the Dragons. Tiger keeper Tyler White made 14 saves.
Drexel took a quick 2-0 lead just 1:12 into the game. Towson did not go on offense until 11:03 in the quarter. The Tigers recovered to get within one, 3-2, despite not winning a face-off in the first quarter. Towson took its first lead, 5-4, at 5:25 in the second when Cuccinello scored a fast-break goal, and the Tigers held a 6-5 lead at the break.
The second half was a tightly contested affair; after a brief tie at 6-6 at the start of the third quarter. Towson led by no more than three goals until 2:14 when McIntosh put Drexel back in front, 10-9. Grimaldi tied it at 10-10 before freshman short-stick defensive midfielder Jack Adams nearly tallied the game winner; however, his shot rang off the post as the buzzer sounded. Belka’s golden goal snuck in low for the victory.
Junior Justin Mabus got the Tigers on the board at 8:39 in the first when he received a pass right in front of the net from Seider. Drexel took a 3-1 lead before McCarty scored unassisted on a bounce at 4:07 in the first. The Dragons led until 5:25 in the second quarter when Cuccinello scored unassisted before Seider added a man-up goal with 4:04 left before the half.
Drexel’s Shafer tied the game again at 6-6 at 12:43 in the third quarter. Towson then received two goals in just over a minute from defenseman Mike Lowe and McCarty before Cuccinello and Seider combined on an extra-man goal with two minutes to go in the frame to put Towson up, 9-6.
However, Drexel rebounded and scored the next four goals to take a 10-9 lead with 2:14 remaining in the game. DeNapoli fed Grimaldi for the game-tying goal, and Adams’ near-miss sent the game into overtime.
Drexel outshot Towson 43-30 and won the ground ball game, 39-17 – mostly off face-offs. The Dragons committed 14 turnovers to Towson’s 11, and the Tigers held Drexel scoreless on EMO (0-5). Towson was 2-4 on man-up chances.
The game looked in doubt from the moment Towson arrived at Drexel at 5 p.m. on April 30. An hour and 15 minutes later, the game was postponed due to unplayable fields. The Tigers trekked to southern New Jersey to stay for the evening and then fought through an hour and a half of traffic to go eight miles and arrive back at Vidas Field on May 1. The game had been scheduled for 12 p.m. It began at 12:45 p.m.
“Our guys handled a lot of adversity just getting here,” noted Nadelen. “An hour and a half to go eight miles? We were ready to play last night.”
Earlier in the day, seniors DeNapoli, John Fennessy, juniors JoJo Ostrander and Mabus and freshmen Seider and Ryan Drenner all earned post-season All-CAA honors. Ostrander earned a spot on the first time, DeNapoli, Mabus and Fennessy were on the second team and Seider and Drenner earned spots on the all-rookie team.