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No. 4 James Madison edges No. 6 Towson, 17-16 in overtime, for CAA regular-season title

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  (HANDOUT)

With the stingiest defense in the Colonial Athletic Association, No. 6 Towson's women's lacrosse team could not have played much better in the first three minutes of overtime Saturday against James Madison.

However, the No. 4 Dukes found one gap in that defense a couple of minutes later.

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Kristen Gaudian raced down the middle and Katie Kerrigan hit her with perfect high pass from behind the goal that the CAA's leading scorer turned into the game-winner for a 17-16 victory at Johnny Unitas Stadium.

"They just slipped through the gaps," Tigers defender Tianna Wallpher (Mount Hebron) said. "We were shifting. Meg Lynch had great pressure behind and I think [Gaudian] just caught us on a big gap and came through hard. We just didn't get there in time and she had a great shot."

In a back-and-forth game that lasted more than 3 hours between the CAA's top scoring defense and its top scoring offense, the Tigers rallied several times, and scored the final three goals of regulation to force overtime.

Each time Towson came back, the Dukes (16-1) had an answer, and with the victory earned the top seed for next week's CAA tournament.

The Dukes will face Delaware on Friday at 4 p.m. at home, Sentara Park in Harrisonburg, Va. The Tigers will follow against Elon at 6:30.

Saturday's game added to what is already a storied rivalry. The Dukes lead the series 30-13, but this was just their second win in seven overtime games against Towson.

The Tigers, who had allowed an average of 8.13 goals coming into the game, had their last lead at 5-4 with eight minutes left in the first half. They fought back throughout the highest-scoring game in the history of the rivalry against a Dukes team that set the CAA record for most goals in a single season.

Despite giving up a season-high 17 goals, the Tigers defense played well in stretches, causing nine of the Dukes' 18 turnovers.

The last one came when Wallpher took a charge in overtime. With 2 seconds left in the first 3 minutes of the 6-minute overtime period, Tigers goalie Kiley Keating, who came into the game with the CAA's best save percentage, made a terrific stop against Morgan Hardt.

To start the second 3 minutes,Towson's Natalie Sulmonte controlled the draw, an area that gave the Tigers trouble early in the game. It changed to their advantage after coach Sonia LaMonica moved freshman Abby Wilkinson to the draw early in the second half.

"She was doing a great job to put the ball in some spots where we could come up with it, so I was really proud of her effort to come up with three draw controls, somebody who hasn't played a ton this season," LaMonica said.

The Tigers won 12 of the final 17 draw controls and that sparked a couple of runs, including the three goals in the final 3:52 to even the score. Emily Gillingham scored on a feed from Sulmonte to tie the score at 16 with 49 seconds left.

Sami Chenoweth (Manchester Valley) won the next draw and Gabby Cha (Mount de Sales) had a free position with 5 seconds left, but the Dukes’ Caroline Sdanowich (John Carroll) blocked the shot and it slowly bounced toward goalie Molly Dougherty, who made the easy save.

Towson also benefited from a yellow card, the fourth assessed to James Madison, making it 2 minutes nonreleasable, with 3:52 to go.

Sulmonte scored off the free-position shot awarded for that foul and Kaitlyn Montalbano added another extra-man free-position goal less than a minute later.

“That’s very difficult to be in that situation and they scored two goals,” said Dukes coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, a Loch Raven graduate. “Luckily we didn’t allow that to affect us. We maintained our confidence and we were able to find a way to win the game.”

The win was only the second in overtime for the Dukes at Towson and it gives them the home field for next week's CAA tournament.

Since 2008, the Tigers or the Dukes have won every CAA championship. Towson has won six, the last in 2016. They've played each other in five of the past seven tournament finals.

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For the Tigers, there were a lot of positives to take away from this game as they expect to see the defending champion Dukes, whose only loss has been to No. 3 Maryland, again next weekend.

“We learn from it and we move on from it,” Wallpher said of the loss. “We had some moments where we were playing our best defense and near the end we were playing our best, so we’ve got to keep going.”

James Madison 8 8 1 — 17

Towson 6 10 0 — 16

Goals: JM—McDaniel 4, Gaudian 3, Haven 2, Kerrigan 2, Romesburg 2, Hardt 2, Warden 2; T—Sulmonte 4, Montalbano 3, Thornton 3, Gillingham 3, Tellecamp 2, Cha. Assists: JM—Haven 4, Kerrigan 3, Romesburg; T—Sachs 2, Sulmonte 2, Conti, Montalbano, Thornton. Saves: JM—Dougherty 8; M—Keating 4, Florek.

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