Bianchin earns three points, Oliveri stops 14 shots in defeat
FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Despite a furious second-half comeback, the No. 4 seeded UMass Minutemen dropped the CAA Championship game to the No. 3 seeded Towson Tigers, 9-8 on Saturday afternoon at Fairfield University’s Rafferty Stadium.
Gianni Bianchin, Brendan Hegarty and Dan Muller each scored two goals for the Minutemen, while Bianchin picked up an assist for three points. Nick Mariano dished out two assists, Andrew Sokol added a goal and a helper and Grant Whiteway found the back of the net once to round out the scorers.
Zach Oliveri backstopped the UMass defense with 14 saves and took home CAA All-Tournament for his efforts in net, alongside Hegarty and Muller. Hegarty, who finished with five goals during the tournament, also collected a pair of groundballs, tied with Kurt Hunziker and Austin Spencer for the team lead during play against the tigers.
With the loss, UMass ends the year with a 5-10 overall record. Towson improves to 11-5 and earns the CAA’s automatic bid into the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The appearance in the CAA Championship Game marked the third for the Minutemen in six years as an affiliate member of the league.
“That game is the epitome of what the CAA is all about, just a dog fight every game,” Oliveri said after the game. “Congratulations to Towson, but I’m really proud of this team and what we did.”
Joe Seider, the CAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, led Towson with three goals while Justin Mabus added two tallies and one assist. Greg Cuccinello also scored twice for the Tigers.
The winning goal came with one minute, 50 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter when Mabus picked up a groundball in front of the Minutemen goal and fired a shot behind his back before Oliveri was able to adjust to the play.
Mabus’ game-winner ended a streak of back-to-back UMass tallies, which erased an 8-6 Towson lead by the 3:36 mark of the fourth.
“Against a patient team, you play pretty good defense and when the ball goes on the ground you hope you get it up and get it out, but that didn’t happen,” UMass coach Greg Cannella said.
Muller stopped a three-goal Towson run when he bested Tigers goalie Tyler White on a shot into the bottom of the net after Muller curled to the left side of the cage at the 8:24 mark of the fourth. Nearly five minutes later, Bianchin scored for the second time and evened play at 8-8 following a pass from Mariano. Bianchin’s goal came at the left post during a man-up situation after Towson had two players sent off for coinciding 30-second penalties.
Bianchin’s goal capped scoring in UMass’ second half comeback effort after the Minutemen entered the break trailing 5-2.
Down three goals, Bianchin found Whiteway open with space to shoot as the duo cut the deficit to 5-3 with 12:01 remaining in the third. Hegarty contributed to the run with an unassisted tally when he wrapped around the cage from X and fired a low attempt inches inside the base of the right post.
Sokol brought the score back to 5-5 with an off-hand, across-body shot out of the reach of White with 6:54 remaining in the third. Following his goal, Sokol helped Bianchin put UMass in front with 4:37 left in the third when Sokol threaded a pass to Bianchin, who fired in a shot from 10 yards out.
“I thought the offense did a great job battling,” Oliveri said. “The whole team did a great job battling through adversity.”
However, Towson answered back with three goals in a row, all unassisted. Mike Lynch started the run with a strike after he ran from behind the Minutemen cage and shot through the UMass defense to tie the game at 6-6 less than two minutes after Bianchin’s go-ahead tally.
Seider provided his third of the game and Towson up, 8-6 when put a shot over Oliveri’s stick with 9:10 to go in the game.
The scoring got started five minutes in when Seider fired a shot beyond Oliveri for a man-up tally after Spencer was hit with a one-minute slash.
The Tigers extended their lead to two at the 8:35 mark. Max Siskind received a Ryan Drenner pass and shot high on Oliveri’s stick side to double Towson’s lead.
UMass did not get on the scoreboard until after Towson pushed the lead to 3-0. Muller whipped a shot into the top-right corner on a feed from Mariano.
Neither team would score against until the 11:46 mark in the second quarter when Hegarty totaled his fourth goal of the tournament. He received a pass behind the Towson goal, ran up the right side and fired the ball into the top left of the cage that brought UMass back within a goal.
Less than 90 seconds later, Towson got the tally back when Seider notched his second of the game. Greg Cuccinello added another Towson goal before the break to reach the halftime score.
The Tigers outshot UMass, 40-27 and picked up 27 groundballs to 12 for the Minutemen. The Maroon and White finished perfect on clears at 11-for-11 while Towson went 10-of-11 in the category. Both sides committed six turnovers.