TOWSON, Md. -- Penn State made a triumphant return to the NCAA postseason, knocking off No. 8 seed Towson (16-4), 15-8, on Saturday in a first-round contest of the 2012 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Championship.

With its first NCAA win since 1999, the Nittany Lions advance to the quarterfinals and will face No. 1 seed Florida in Gainesville next weekend.

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"This was a great stride for our program today," said Penn State head coach Missy Doherty. "We were really excited to come away with a win against a great Towson team. It was a tremendous effort overall by our players, making some outstanding hustle plays and scoring some great goals."

"Leaving Florida, we were disappointed losing to Hopkins but then this whole week at practice, we had this momentum going in that it's a new week," said senior team co-captain Theresa Zichelli. "We weren't ready to be done. We worked really hard for our whole practice time. Coming out [Saturday], we were confident and we weren't even thinking about the past. We were just ready for what was coming at us."

Junior Molly Fernandez starred in her return to her hometown, scoring a game-high four goals while freshman Maggie McCormick matched Fernandez's point output, totaling one goal and three assists. Freshman Haley Ford notched a hat trick, scoring all three goals through the first 8:51 of the second half.

Senior goalkeeper Dana Cahill anchored the Penn State defense, which held Towson to just three second-half goals, making six saves, including four key stops in the second half when the Tigers were attempting to mount a comeback. Sophomore defender Lizzy Carney may have had the game's two best plays, stopping a one-on-one Towson scoring chance with a last second check from behind and going coast-to-coast to score a goal early in the second half. She also held Towson's leading scorer, Andi Raymond, who entered the game with 66 points, to just two goals.

After Towson opened the scoring with a goal at the 27:34 mark, Penn State (12-6) embarked on a 5-0 run to take early control of the game. Zichelli got the Nittany Lions on the scoreboard with 24:28 on the clock, catching a high pass from behind the goal from McCormick and quickly putting it in net.

Fernandez then gave Penn State its first lead of the goal at 2-1, converting on a free-position attempt. Sophomore Lauren Purvis, who had subbed into the game, followed suit, taking advantage of a free-position opportunity with her fourth goal of the season. Fernandez scored the next two goals in less than a minute to notch the early hat trick.

Up 5-1 with more than 18 minutes remaining in the half, Penn State seized the momentum but four consecutive possessions with turnovers opened the door for Towson. The Tigers took advantage and scored three consecutive goals during the next 10 minutes to pull within one of Penn State.

Sophomore Mackenzie Cyr halted the Towson tide when she slipped a shot into the upper right corner of the net, giving Penn State some breathing room at 6-4. But the Tigers clawed back to within one, scoring a goal with just 10 seconds remaining in the first half.

Penn State stormed from the gates in the second half, scoring five unanswered goals to take a commanding 11-5 lead. Ford triggered the run, netting her first of the game a bit more than two minutes into the period. She would score two more times in that span along with Carney and Zichelli, whose second of the game came off a free position opportunity.

Towson tried to get back in the game, netting two straight goals in just over one minute to pull within four at 11-7. But that would be as close as the Tigers would get.

After over six minutes of scoreless play, Penn State move back ahead by five with a freshman to freshman connection. McCormick scored the goal, her 29th of the season, with the assist going to Tatum Coffey. Coffey, Fernandez, and senior Elaine Welch then scored in succession during the next four minutes to provide Penn State with its largest lead of the game at 15-7. Towson added a late goal to account for the final margin, Penn State's largest since downing Lehigh, 15-3, on April 11.

With the win, Penn State moves to 30-17 all-time in postseason play. The Nittany Lions 12 victories are the program's most since 2005, the last year it appeared in the NCAA tournament.