By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Senior goalie Austin Kaut's monster game Saturday night at Towson has given the Penn State defense just what they need to finish the season strong - a boost in poise and tenacity.
"It really gives our guys a lot of confidence defensively to know that Austin is going to make those saves," said assistant coach Peter Toner. "That was a great boost for the defense and certainly a great thing for him to find a groove.
Kaut rejected all 11 Tiger shots that came his way en route to a dominant 8-1 Nittany Lion victory, which moved the team's record to within one game of .500.
"It seemed like everywhere they shot the ball he was a step or two ahead of them," Toner said.
The only Towson goal came with just over a minute remaining after Kaut was pulled and replaced by freshman netminder Connor Darcey. Although the defense was just a minute away from the program's first shutout in almost 50 years, giving up that lone goal doesn't take away from their dominant showing.
"It just seemed like we were always the aggressor defensively whether it was defending the ball, sliding into a double team or picking up ground balls," Toner said.
Kaut, 2013's NCAA goalie of the year, was determined and focused last week in practice on finishing his senior season strong.
"We come out and work as hard as we can and never give up--that's our motto as a senior class," Kaut said.
The senior's showing on Saturday demonstrated that playoffs or not--this team is still motivated and always hungry for a win.
"I think he just made a decision during the week that he was going to take a step in the right direction and that's why he was dominant Saturday night," Toner said.
Towson's offense, led by senior Thomas DeNapoli, was denied three times in each of the first three quarters. The few times that the Tiger attack broke through the Nittany Lion defense, Kaut was there to deny their shooters.
"[DeNapoli] is definitely a catalyst to their offense and Towson does a lot to move him around and get him shots," Toner said.
Senior defender Tyler Travis was matched up against DeNapoli, which is a paring he has become familiar with. Travis has defended the prolific Tiger attackman in multiple games over the last few seasons, including last year's CAA championship loss.
"Tyler did a really good job on DeNapoli," Toner said. "That's a matchup he's had the last couple of years and it was a big part of our defensive game plan to stop DeNapoli. Tyler got a lot of help from the guys around him."
The Blue and White are down to just two games left on their 2014 slate--both of which will be CAA battles at home. When Delaware and Towson come to Happy Valley the next two weekends, fans can expect to see a focused, gameplan-oriented defense.
"As the year goes on it's good for these guys to get some confidence and have a sound game plan going in," Toner said. "They've done a very nice job of buying into finishing this season on a good note."
Faceoff against Delaware is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Blue Hens come into Happy Valley with a 6-7 overall record and a 0-3 mark in conference play. This will be the second-to-last CAA matchup for the Nittany Lions before they join the Big Ten in 2015.