At the St. Paul's Field Hockey Tournament yesterday, the No. 7 Gators surprised No. 1 Towson by doing something that no other team had been able to do for nearly a year -- score first. Towson hadn't even given up a goal through its previous 11 games dating to Oct. 11.
The thrill of the Gators' goal, however, would be short-lived.
Their lead lasted less than four minutes and Towson later broke open a hotly contested game with three goals in the final 10:15 for a 4-1 victory.
Erin Walsch scored the game-winner, rushing a loose ball after Gators defender Leslie Koch made a goal-line stick save on Jocelyn Paul's shot.
Paul, who scored Towson's first goal, and Kelly Ball added two Generals goals in the final 3:45.
Towson defender Alley Firey said St. Paul's first goal -- scored by Caitlin Sloane on a perfect cross from Carrie Thieman -- shocked the Generals.
"That goal was a reality check," said the senior back. "It happened so fast. We didn't expect it. They had a good hit down the field and I don't think we were set up. We weren't focused yet. We had to pick it up and we did."
Coach Holly West's Generals (6-0), who assumed the first No. 1 ranking in the history of their program last fall, have been steadily gaining ground on the top private school teams over the past few years.
Two years ago, they lost to both St. Paul's and Bryn Mawr, last year's co-champs in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference. A year ago, they tied both, 1-1. This season, they beat both, edging No. 5 Bryn Mawr, 1-0, in the season opener.
"This is such a big win for us," Walsch said. "It shows how we can play as a team really well."
The Gators (5-1-1) also played well as a team until the final minutes, despite being without veteran forward Claire Edelen, who was on a college visit, and despite completing a 3-0 win over St. Mary's just an hour before playing Towson.
"After they started scoring, it just reminded us that we were really tired," Thieman said. "After their second goal, we kind of started to get down on ourselves."
The game remained 1-1 for almost 45 minutes before Walsch's goal. The St. Paul's defenders made several stick saves, including back-to-back stops by Alexandra Eagan and Koch late in the first half.
But when Walsch rushed a rebound, no one could get a stick in front of her shot.
"I saw it going in and I was so upset because somebody saved it," said Paul, who took the initial shot. "Then Erin came from nowhere and just like -- bam."
After Gators coach Annie Smallwood called a timeout, her team looked determined to tie the score. With 4:50 to go, Tierney Hoover took a shot, but Towson defender Alex Chambers was there to make the high stick save.
The Generals countered and quickly earned a penalty corner. Sam Merrick passed the ball out to Paul, who scorched it 15 yards and off goalie K.C. Burke's pads for a 3-1 lead.
That goal deflated the Gators, and Towson remained relentless. With 1:11 to go, Ball, at the penalty stroke line, took a pass from Walsch and swept it into a corner.
The Gators had one more chance, but Towson goalie Jessy Willse, who made a terrific diving stick save earlier in the half, stopped St. Paul's final shot.