Towson tops JMU for CAA championship
When freshman midfielder Michelle Gildea entered the starting lineup April 11 against William & Mary, it was a case of right-place, right-time for Towson. Gildea made an immediate impact, using her speed to get past defenders and to the net.
On Sunday, it was the same for Gildea. With 35 seconds remaining in the first overtime period of the Colonial Athletic Association championship game, freshman Gabby Cha found Gildea wide open in the center of the circle, where Gildea caught the pass and beat James Madison goalie Schylar Healy to clinch the 12-11 win.
“We switched Michelle from a defensive sub to our second-line midfield,” Head Coach Sonia LaMonica said. “She’s the fastest player on our team and she’s been the one who has really created from many spots on the field. She played today the way she needs to play and the way she feels she can help the team.”
With its third straight CAA title, Towson set a conference record.
“It’s a very cool thing and I have a lot of pride in our program and the things we have been creating with the coaching staff,” LaMonica said. “[Our team] is hard-nosed and hard-working and I’m really privileged to be able to work with these athletes who play for Towson University.”
The Tigers’ offense came out strong, pressuring the Dukes’ defense from the starting whistle by putting together a 5-0 run. Junior attacker Andi Raymond began the run with a goal, off a pass from senior attacker Ashleigh Rohrback, just 1:24 into the game.
The Dukes pressured the Tigers offense over the next few minutes, but junior goalie Kelsey Donnelly saved a shot and another went wide.
Instead, the Tigers increased their lead at 24:06 left in the half, when Rohrback found the back of the net from a Raymond service.
Senior midfielder Katie Leech took the ensuing draw control, drove through the James Madison defense and made it 3-0 just 20 seconds after Rohrback’s goal.
James Madison grabbed the next draw control, but a turnover gave Towson the opportunity to score again. Raymond scored for the second time with 22:00 left in the first half and the third with 20:43
remaining, to complete a dominant first 10 minutes for Towson.
The Dukes ended the Tigers run less than a minute after Raymond’s goal, when attacker Betsy Angel beat Donnelly off an assist from teammate Jaci Gordon.
James Madison kept the offensive pressure up, but Donnelly stopped a free position attempt and junior attacker Taylor Moore added to the Towson lead with 12:22 left in the half.
At 6-1, the Dukes scored three consecutive goals in less than two minutes to cut the Tigers lead to 6-4.
After midfielder Taylor Gress took a draw control, she found Amy Roguski, who started the run with the goal.
Attacker Stephanie Finley then scored on a free position attempt and Gress converted with 10:56 left in the half to move her team within two goals.
Towson needed to respond to the James Madison rally and did so with 8:27 left in the half, when freshman attacker Samantha Brookhart found junior midfielder Paige Duncan, who made it 7-4 and ended the 3-0 James Madison run.
The Dukes added another goal before the half, but the Tigers took the two-goal advantage into the break. Despite the Dukes leading 14-11 in shots, the Tigers’ earlier run gave them the advantage at half.
After Cha, the CAA Rookie of the Year, opened the half with her 22nd goal of the season, James Madison responded to score four of the next five goals to tie the game.
Less than three minutes after Cha’s goal, Finley beat Donnelly twice in a 1:10 span to cut the Tigers’ lead to 8-7 with 23:29 left in the game.
Freshman attacker Samantha Brookhart added another goal for the Tigers, but their lead wasn’t safe.
Attacker Megan Piotrowicz and Roguski combined to score the next two James Madison goals to tie the game at 9-9 with 15:38 remaining.
After the teams traded chances, Cha scored again to give Towson a crucial 10-9 lead.
However, the Dukes found the equalizer with 2:20 left in the game. Midfielder Ali Curwin found the back of the net to make it 10-10.
The Dukes had the final possession of regulation, but a shot hit the crossbar in the final seconds to secure overtime.
Towson struck first in overtime, as freshman midfielder Colby Unkle beat Healy off a pass from Rohrback to take an 11-10 lead with 4:24 left in the first period of overtime.
Piotrowicz responded exactly three minutes later, as her close-range shot beat Donnelly.
In the second period of overtime, both teams had chances to pull in front.
However, Gildea’s shot at the end of the first overtime period proved to be the game winner, as the Tiger won the ensuing draw control and held the ball for the win.
Towson will play Stony Brook in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday night.
The first two rounds will take place this weekend, ending on Sunday. The Tigers are looking to avenge a first round loss to the Sea Wolves last year.
Also, No. 2 seed Syracuse is on Towson’s side of the bracket. The Tigers lost to the Orange earlier in the season.
If Towson advances to the Final Four, they will play at home, as Johnny Unitas Stadium will host all women’s lacrosse Championship Weekend games.
“We set some strong goals at the beginning of the year for our program,” LaMonica said. “We really want to make a run in the tournament.
“No matter what our draw is, we’re going to give it our all and enjoy the process. Our goal is to go as far as we can in the tournament and potentially play at home in the final four. I mean, why not?”