Penn State women's lacrosse coach Missy Doherty enjoyed her first trip back to Towson since leaving the Tigers two years ago to take over the Nittany Lions' program. The Tigers didn't enjoy the visit so much.
From the fourth minute of Saturday's game, eighth-seeded Towson had to play catch up and never made it all the way back as Penn State took a 15-8 victory in the NCAA Division I tournament first round atJohnny Unitas Stadium. Instead of the Tigers advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time, the Lions will travel to No. 1-seeded Florida on Saturday .
The game figured to be closer with two of the nation's top goalies, Towson's Mary Teeters and Penn State's Dana Cahill, but the Lions were the only team other than Maryland and Syracuse to slip 13 goals past Teeters. The senior Centennial graduate, who had been allowing 8.13 goals per game, sat for a while in the second half and Kelsea Donnelly allowed the other two goals.
"They pushed some really good transition goals and were patient and were really picky about their shots," Teeters said. "They had a lot of eight meters. They were just good shooters."
The Lions (12-6) scored on three of five eight-meter shots, including two in an early five-goal run that gave them a 5-1 lead in the first 12 minutes. The Tigers (16-4) rallied to make the score 6-5 when quick transition and terrific ball movement resulted in Andi Raymond's goal 10 seconds before halftime.
The momentum, however, did not carry over. The Lions scored another five in a row to build an 11-5 lead. The Tigers never got closer than four goals in their first NCAA tournament home game.
"We struggled with some areas on the field," Towson coach Sonia Lamonica said. "The draws when we really needed them, we had trouble. We didn't have a lot of shots … we had some mental errors. It just wasn't a truly characteristic game for us."
The Lions outshot Towson, 28-17, and four Baltimore-area natives led them in scoring. Molly Fernandez (McDonogh) and Haley Ford (North Harford) had three goals each and Theresa Zichelli (Severna Park) added two. Maggie McCormick (Liberty) had a goal and three assists.
The Tigers got two each from Raymond, Ashley Waldron and Kelly Custer, but the offense never looked sharp as Penn State ended their 10-game winning streak.
"I thought we were playing pretty patient, but we just weren't attacking them as much as we should have," Custer said. "I feel that we could have taken them harder on one-v-ones. We were kind of just being too relaxed in times that we didn't need to be."
Penn State, in its first appearance in the tournament since 2005, had plenty of motivation to turn their season around after dropping their previous two games, including a 13-12 loss to Johns Hopkins in the American Lacrosse Conference tournament. Those losses combined with Towson's big finish as Colonial Athletic Association champions helped put the Tigers among the top eight seeds.
One of the keys for the Lions on Saturday was their strong defensive effort, especially late in the first half and when the Tigers managed a little momentum midway through the second.
Lizzie Carney saved a goal in the last two minutes of the first half when she ran down Raymond and checked the ball away from her as she was trying to fake Cahill on the shot. Cahill, a Mercy graduate who finished with six saves, made four in the second half and also had a key interception to preserve a five-goal lead with five minutes to go.
"We have a really strong and fast defense and we wanted to use that to our advantage," Zichelli, a senior midfielder said. "Towson is a really fast team and we did that today, just switching things up and pressuring behind and pressuring all out -- our caused turnovers and in the midfield on redefending. We worked really hard this week on staying goal side and denying and that really proved to help us in this game."
PS 6 9 -- 15
T 5 3 -- 8
Goals: PS—Fernandez 3, Ford 3, Zichelli 2, McCormick, Coffey, Lechner, Cyr, Carney, Purvis, Welch; T—Raymond 2, Waldron 2, Custer 2, Murkey, Rohrback. Assists: PS—McCormick 3, Coffey; T—Murkey. Saves: PS—Cahill 6; T—Teeters 6, Donnelly 1.