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Towson upset by High Point, 21-15, in first round of NCAA women's lacrosse tournament

In Friday night's NCAA women's lacrosse tournament opener, Towson could not overcome its own unforced errors and a High Point team determined to earn the school's first NCAA tournament victory in any sport.

The No. 19 Tigers took an early three-goal lead, but the game turned on High Point's ensuing 11-goal run as the Panthers earned the 21-15 upset victory in a steady rain at Maryland's Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex. It was High Point's first win over a ranked team.

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Towson and High Point set a record for most combined goals scored in an NCAA tournament game.

Although the Tigers (12-7) ended the regular season with a resounding victory over Johns Hopkins that likely clinched their at-large berth in the 26-team NCAA tournament field, they struggled in the postseason. They fell to Elon in overtime in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals before yielding more goals than they had in nine years to High Point.

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The Big South champion Panthers (16-3) were playing in the NCAA tournament for just the third time in the seven-year history of their program. They took advantage of many of Towson's 21 turnovers and won most of the ground balls.

Kaitlyn Montalbano, who had four goals and two assists, gave the Tigers a 5-2 lead with 12:42 left in the first half, but High Point shut them out for the next 22 minutes.

"We just knew we weren't finished with our season," said Panthers sophomore Emory Gaeng, a John Carroll graduate who finished with five goals and an assist. "We still wanted to play one more game, so we weren't going to accept losing. So, we really turned it on. We went out there saying we needed to play more together and get the ball moving around."

During that stretch, the Tigers turned the ball over nine times, split the draws and struggled to win the 50-50 balls.

High Point's Ashley Britton started the run by scoring off the rebound of an Angie Benson save against Samantha Herman (Patterson Mill). During one four-minute stretch in which the Panthers scored five straight goals, they won all the draws and Towson never had possession.

That spurt boosted High Point's lead to 8-5 with 5:20 left in the first half. Towson had a chance to cut into the lead with a flurry of shots late in the half, but four sailed wide and Panthers goalie Jill Rall stopped the other. Her save led to a Gaeng goal with 3.3 seconds left in the half and a 10-5 High Point lead.

The Panthers tacked on three more goals with Gaeng capping the 11-goal run on a feed from Darla Poulin, who finished with six goals and two assists, pushing the lead to 13-5 with 22:45 to go.

"We couldn't stop the bleeding," Towson coach Sonia LaMonica said, "and they were finishing their shots well. We had trouble finding the ball. I thought High Point outworked us that first half. They outcompeted us and we were just not competing in that first half and that really set the tone in High Point's favor."

The Tigers, who won their first NCAA tournament game last season, rallied to within 14-12 with nice ball movement and a series of assisted goals. Samanatha Brookhart, a Mount Hebron graduate and Towson's all-time assists leader, had three assists in a 7-1 run as did Natalie Sulmonte. Montalbano, Carly Tellekamp and Sulmonte scored two goals each in the run.

But the Tigers could not sustain the moment and High Point came back with five straight goals for a 19-12 lead with 10:17 left that all but sealed the upset.

Tigers defender Olivia Conti, the first freshman to be named CAA Defender of the Year, had three caused turnovers in the game and broke the single-season conference record with 48.

The Panthers, coached by Southern graduate Lyndsey Boswell, got contributions from several other players with Baltimore-area roots, including Catonsville graduate Brooke Stevens, who had three assists, and defenders Casey Kotchenreuter (Herford) and Christina Del Sesto (Archbishop Spalding).

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High Point will face No. 1 Maryland (19-0) in the second round of the NCAA tournament Sunday at noon at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex. The Terps, seeded No. 1 in the tournament for the fifth straight year, had an opening-round bye.

Boswell and her players are thrilled to get the chance to face Maryland.

"It's an experience not many people get, to play the No. 1 team," Poulin said, "so I think it's just going to be exciting to face them."

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HP 10 11 -- 21

T 5 10 -- 15

Goals: HP--Poulin 6, Gaeng 5, Brown 4, Perrotta 3, Britton 2, Herman; T--Montalbano 4, Brookhart 3, Tellekamp 3, Sulmonte 2, Gillingham, Conti, Ferro. Assists: HP--Perrotta 4, Brown 3, Stevens 3, Poulin 2, Gaeng; T--Brookhart 3, Sulmonte 3, Gillingham 2, Montalbano 2, Conti. Saves: HP--Rall 5; T--Benson 11, Keating 0.

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