March 14, 2016

Florida Uses Big Second Half to Blow Out Towson

by Alex Maminakis | | Twitter

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Only one team could walk away undefeated.

No. 2 Florida and No. 15 Towson met Monday night in Gainesville, each with a perfect record. Something had to give.

After the Gators got out to a quick 6-1 lead, it looked like Florida was on its way to a rout, but Towson fought back hard with a 4-0 scoring run and eventually got to within three goals at halftime, 9-6. But the second half was all Florida — the Gators outscored the Tigers 6-1 in a much more defensive and physical half to widen the gap and defeat Towson 15-7. Florida (9-0) maintains its perfect record, making it one of just four teams in the country that is still undefeated.

"I couldn't be more proud of this group offensively," Florida coach Amanda O'Leary said after the win. "Towson plays a fantastic defense, they play a zone, it has held teams to minimal goals."

What made the Gators' offensive output on Monday night even more impressive was the fact that they scored 15 goals without junior Mollie Stevens, the team's leading goal scorer prior to the win. Stevens was issued a red card in Florida's previous game against Boston College and was ineligible Monday night.

Florida seemed to have no trouble making up for Stevens' absence. Redshirt senior Nicole Graziano scored four goals on seven shots, and Shayna Pirreca and Sammi Burgess each scored three goals of their own. There were also some freshmen that got more playing time with Stevens out, and they didn't seem to miss a beat.

"There were a lot of new faces on the field that don't normally get a lot of playing time," Graziano said. "And I think that freshmen like Madi Hall, Caroline Benitez, they definitely stepped up big with Mollie's absence."

For Towson (6-1), its first loss gave it a great learning experience. The Tigers did not go down without a fight and they gave the No. 2 team in the country their best shot.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Montalbano led Towson with three goals on three shots – her second consecutive game with a hat trick. Freshman Carly Tellekamp, the three-time Colonial Athletic Association Freshman of the Week, added two goals. The Tigers were just never able to close the scoring gap after falling behind early.

"I think we came out a little scared and then we adjusted and we got the jitters out," Montalbano said. "I think we fought hard. We were only down by 3 at halftime. We came out and we just knew that we had nothing to lose. They're the No. 2 team, they're a great team."

Towson coach Sonia LaMonica said her team just made too many mistakes that hindered their chances at success against the Gators. She and Montalbano pointed out the draw control battle, which was tied at 8 apiece at halftime, but which Florida won 6-2 in the second half, as being a big factor in the game.

"You can't make mistakes like we did against a team like Florida. You're gonna pay a price," LaMonica said. "Unfortunately, we made some errors, particularly in some defensive sets late in the game that cost us."

The Tigers will take what they learned form their first loss and look to improve when they return home to face Penn on Saturday. Montalbano said she thinks her team will bounce back from the loss and get even stronger from it, a sentiment LaMonica echoed as well.

The Gators take their undefeated record into a huge matchup with No. 1 Maryland on Saturday. Florida will get Mollie Stevens back and look to improve to 4-0 against top-10 teams and 7-0 against teams in the top 20. The game against the Terrapins will be the Gators' first of their four top-10 matchups that will be played in Gainesville.

"It's all about heart," Sammi Burgess said. "Any team at any point can win, so it's really important for us, even if we are ahead, to keep working hard and keep pushing it as best we can."

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