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Maryland, Towson Men's Lacrosse Set For 'Backyard Brawl' In First Round Of NCAA Tournament

May 8, 2019
The NCAA Tournament first-round game between the Maryland and Towson men's lacrosse teams May 12 is being dubbed "The Backyard Brawl."

The Tigers (11-4) earned a sixth seed and home game by winning the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. The Terrapins (11-4) lost to Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten semifinals and are unseeded for the first time since 2012. 

"It's awesome," Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said. "It's awesome for the Towson University community, it's awesome for the fan base. We've only had five home games this year, but we've had really large turnouts. I expect similar this coming Sunday. It's a great opportunity for our guys."

A highly anticipated game against the Terrapins is the culmination of a roller-coaster season for Towson. 

The Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the nation after beating Loyola Feb. 27, suffered a three-game losing streak midseason and now have won four consecutive games heading into the matchup with the Terrapins.

Nadelen said the players carried a heavy burden as the top-ranked team and have learned from the experience. 

"That created more pressure than we were used to in our guys and I didn't do a great job working with our guys about it," Nadelen said. "That allowed us to play some poor lacrosse against some tough opponents that took advantage of that. 

"We started strong, we hit a little lull to finish out the nonconference [schedule], got back on track in conference besides a rough outing against UMass. We've had our ups and downs, but these guys have stayed hungry, they've stayed focused and their dedication and desire has never wavered." 

The Terrapins find themselves in an unfamiliar position of going on the road and being underdogs in the opening game. Maryland coach John Tillman is embracing that role, especially after losing to Johns Hopkins twice in five days during the regular-season finale and then the conference tournament.

"We've got to understand, for us to win and pull off an upset, we've got to have that underdog mentality and have a little chip on our shoulder," Tillman said after the brackets were unveiled. "Realize that they're the favorite, we're not. And we've got to go out there and execute."

Few teams want to play the Tigers in the postseason.

Towson has a solid attack led by senior Brendan Sunday and stingy defense in front of junior goalie Tyler Canto. The balance should help against a Maryland team that is equally adept at both ends of the field. 

"We're ready for Maryland. Everybody is excited about it," Canto said. "It's good to have one last home game for the seniors for all of the hard work they put it the last four years." 

Sunday leads the team with 45 goals and 24 assists. He's been able to adjust with double teams for much of the season and is ready for whatever game plan the Terrapins devise for him and the rest of his teammates.

"We're prepared for anything," Sunday said. "That's one of the great things about our team. We can play a low-scoring affair. We have a super-solid defense. We have great faceoff guys. We also have a pretty explosive offense when we play our game. We can do anything." 

Towson senior and All-American faceoff specialist Alex Woodall has missed the last three games with an undisclosed injury. He was in uniform and available for the CAA tournament but did not play. 

Junior Jack McNallen has played well in Woodall's place and set a CAA tournament and school record by winning 27 of 31 faceoff attempts during a 18-11 victory against Delaware in the semifinals. Woodall is still day-to-day and has confidence McNallen can carry the load. 

"We always help each other out," Woodall said. "Facing off is really a mental battle."

Regardless of whom faces off, the Tigers are a formidable matchup for the Terrapins, who average 12.6 goals per game and allow 10.6. 

Maryland sophomore Logan Wisnauskas (Boys' Latin) leads team with 39 goals and 32 assists (71 points) followed by junior Jared Bernhardt 45 goals and 25 assists (70 points). 

"The last couple games have not gone our way, and we kind of left it up to somebody else and didn't keep it in our hands," Tillman said. "There's nobody else to blame but myself for putting ourselves in that situation."
 
OTHER GAMES

No. 8 Loyola (11-4) hosts at-large Syracuse (9-4) 

When: May 11 at noon

Overview: The Greyhounds face the Orange for the first time since 2009. Syracuse leads the all-time series, 19-5, and has won the last two games. The Orange will look to neutralize Loyola senior attackman Pat Spencer, who was held to a single assist during a 7-5 loss to Army in the Patriot League semifinals. 

Spencer will have to deal with Syracuse defenseman Nick Mellen, a Tewaaraton Award nominee who is holding his opponents to 0.91 goals per game this season. Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey considered that setback a wakeup call, so look for his players to be much more focused against Syracuse, which has one of the most storied histories in college lacrosse. 

Johns Hopkins (8-7) at No. 7 Notre Dame (8-6)

When: May 12 at 7:30 p.m. 

Overview: The Blue Jays are hitting their stride at a critical time. Johns Hopkins beat Maryland twice in five days and the pushed No. 1 Penn State before losing the Big Ten title game, 18-17, in overtime. The Blue Jays have won four of their previous five meetings with Notre Dame, including first-round tournament victories in 1992, 1996 and 2007 and a quarterfinal win in 2000.

Johns Hopkins freshman Joey Epstein leads the team with 45 goals and 22 assists. The Fighting Irish lost to Virginia 10-4, in the ACC title game. The key will be for the Blue Jays to jump out to an early lead and make Notre Dame play from behind. The Irish, though, are solid defensively and are allowing fewer than 10 goals per game.

UMBC (7-8) at No. 1 Penn State (14-1)

When: May 12 at noon

Overview: The Retrievers continued their remarkable run and earned their first NCAA Tournament win since 2007 with a 14-8 victory against Marist in the play-in game. A pair of Severna Park graduates and sophomores Steven Zichelli and Trevor Patschorke each finished with three goals and one assist. Sophomore goalie Tommy Lingner entered the game nine seconds into the second quarter for Jack Morton and had 11 saves. Junior attackman Ryan Frawley became the 10th player in program history to score 40 goals in a season.

The Retrievers advanced to the round of 16 where they will meet top-seeded Penn State, which won the Big Ten title. The Nittany Lions attack is set up by Grant Ament, who has 77 assists on the season. Mac O'Keefe leads the team with 60 goals.  Penn State is riding an 11-game winning streak and has not lost since a 14-13 setback to Yale on Feb. 23.

This was updated after UMBC defeated Marist.

Photo Credit: Rob Maloof/Towson Athletics and Courtesy of Maryland Athletics