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Canadian-born players lead Ohio State to NCAA lacrosse final

Ohio State gathers after winning in the NCAA

Ohio State gathers after winning in the NCAA lacrosse final four, 11-10, over the Towson Tigers at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, May 27, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. Credit: Getty Images / Omar Rawlings

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Ohio State has been playing lacrosse since 1953, but hasn’t been a relevant player in a sport with strong Northeast roots until recently. Of course the Buckeyes have mined talent in the traditional American hotbeds of Maryland and Long Island. But they struck gold in the true north. Oh, Canada.

Canadian-born players accounted for eight of Ohio State’s goals in an 11-10 victory over Towson on Saturday in the first of two NCAA men’s semifinal games at Gillette Stadium. Maryland outlasted Denver, 9-8, in the nightcap to set up an all-Big Ten final at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

The Buckeyes (16-4) had to rally from an 8-3 deficit early in the third quarter and still trailed 9-7 with 2:20 left in the third before flying Air Canada.

“In the first half, we felt a little rushed,” said Tre Leclaire (British Columbia), who scored three goals with an assist. “We came out in the second half, took a deep breath, calmed down and ran our offense. It worked.”

It worked especially well during two 4-0 runs which turned the game. Austin Shanks started the comeback on an assist from Eric Fannell (Ontario), who also had two goals. Leclaire, Shanks and Fannell scored in a 3:05 span that made it 8-7.

After Tyler Young gave the Tigers (12-5) a 9-7 lead, Fannell, Leclaire, J.T. Blubaugh and Johnny Pearson (British Columbia) scored for an 11-9 Ohio State edge with 6:10 left.

“They’re a great team. They’ve got two D-middies that were running the whole game,” Leclaire said. “We knew they were going to get tired, so we took that to our advantage.”

Ryan Drenner, who had a hat trick for Towson as did Joe Seider, scored after making a leaping, one-handed catch behind the cage and then dodging to the front for a spectacular finish that cut the deficit to one with 3:17 left. That ended a scoring drought of 14:03.

Towson then played its usual strong, physical defense and did not allow Ohio State a good shot during a long possession. The Tigers got the ball back and, with 56.5 seconds left, Fannell had a clear shot to tie it. He was stuffed by Tom Carey (10 saves). Seider missed wide with 15 seconds left and defensemen Jeff Henrick (Ontario, of course) stick-checked the ball loose, allowing Ohio State to run out the clock and reach its first final on its first trip to the Final Four.

“We were just trying to do what we’ve been doing all season long, getting good looks,” Drenner said of the final Towson possessions. “Trying to force the defense to extend out and hopefully make a mistake. But it was pretty chaotic in the last few minutes.”

There was one more key Canadian contribution — faceoff specialist Jake Withers (Ontario). Like his teammates, he had a slow start, but went 5-for-5 in the fourth quarter when the Buckeyes needed him most.

“They had the ball more,” Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said, succinctly. “A good offensive team has the ball more and they’re that much more dangerous.”

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