May 12, 2012

Penn State Pulls Away From Towson in Second Half

by Clare Lochary | | Live Blog Replay

Haley Ford (three goals) was one of nine different Penn State goal-scorers on Saturday against Towson.
© John Strohsacker/

TOWSON, Md. -- Penn State defender Lizzy Carney saw the play unfolding before her.

Towson's Kelly Custer and Andi Raymond simultaneously broke away from a crowd and started a furious give-and-go that seemed destined to end in an unstoppable one-on-one chance against Nittany Lions keeper Dana Cahill. So Carney sprinted half the length of the field to catch up, and dove to get a stick on Raymond near the goal circle. Raymond couldn't even get a clean shot off, much less score. After the game, Carney called the defensive stop lucky. Penn State head coach Missy Doherty disagreed.

"That wasn't luck – that was skill. When you're watching a game, and you see a play like that, you're like, 'OK, this is going to be a great game,'" said Doherty.

The unseeded Nittany Lions played a great game and upset eighth-seeded Towson, 15-8, in the first round of the NCAA women's lacrosse tournament on Saturday. Penn State junior attacker Molly Fernandez led all scorers with four goals, and freshman midfielder Haley Ford added three more to lift Penn State to its first tournament win since 1999. Penn State will face American Lacrosse Conference foe and top overall seed Florida in the quarterfinals next weekend in Gainesville.

"Coming out today, we were confident and we weren't even thinking about the past. We were just ready for what was coming at us," said senior midfielder Theresa Zichelli. "We have a really fast and strong defense and we wanted to use that to our advantage."

The Tigers scored first on an unassisted goal by Raymond (two goals), but Penn State answered with a five-goal run to take a 5-1 lead at 18:18. Towson rallied for a run of its own, and at the half, Penn State led 6-5. But the Nittany Lions broke out in the second period, scoring five straight goals to take a healthy lead and never looked back. Defensively, Penn State clamped down on one-on-one opportunities and pressed the Tigers out to limit their quality looks.

"We were just feeling rushed and we weren't playing the way we knew how. We let them handle us and we weren't taking control of the offense," said Custer (two goals).

The Nittany Lions outhustled the Tigers, winning the ground ball battle (15-12) and the draw control advantage (10-12).

"I was just doing all I could to pull it out and trust my teammates would crash it, and they did a good job coming in," said junior midfielder Katie Guy, who had a career-high six draw controls.

Cahill, Penn State's senior goalie, finished with six saves, four ground balls and one caused turnover. Towson, typically a strong defensive team anchored by senior goalie Mary Teeters, struggled to stop the Nittany Lions' careful shots. Teeters finished with six saves, but was pulled from the game for 11:28 in the second half in favor of freshman Kelsea Donnelly (one save).

"We clawed our way back into the game, but they broke the game open," said Towson head coach Sonia LaMonica, whose team finishes with a 16-4 record and a program-high for wins in a season. "We didn't have a lot of shots today. We had some mental errors. It just wasn't a truly characteristic game for us. That's one of the challenges in these big games."

By contrast, the Nittany Lions (12-6) came up big in a tournament game, shaking off past seasons and a 13-12 overtime loss to Johns Hopkins in the ALC semifinal. Penn State was one of the last teams into the NCAA tournament, and now they're quarterfinalist qualifiers with a commanding win over Towson, the Colonial Athletic Association champs. The Nittany Lions lost to Florida, 14-7, in the regular season, but they seem more ready for the rematch after the Towson win.

"It was a tremendous effort overall by our players, making some outstanding hustle plays and scoring some great goals," said Doherty. "I like the corner we turned in this game in terms of competing on a national level."

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