AMHERST, Mass. — Bowdoin College took the lead three times in the fourth quarter but could not hold on, and Amherst came away with a 49-45 victory Saturday in a game between two of the nation’s top three Division III women’s basketball teams.

Amherst (20-0, 6-0 NESCAC), the defending national champion and ranked No. 1 this year, extended its win streak to 53.

Kate Kerrigan scored a game-high 15 points with nine rebounds and three assists for third-ranked Bowdoin (19-1, 5-1).

The win gave Amherst the inside track to hosting the conference semifinals and final.

Bowdoin stayed with Amherst in a back-and-forth game. Bowdoin led 11-9 after the first quarter and Amherst led 23-21 at halftime. In the second half, there were four ties and eight lead changes.

“That was a battle. I’m tired and I didn’t even play,” Amherst Coach G.P. Gromacki said. “Give credit to Bowdoin. They made some plays. But down the stretch our team kept their composure.”

Taylor Choate’s free throw gave Bowdoin a 37-36 lead with 8:44 left. But guard Hannah Fox answered with a jumper (Amherst, 38-37).

Lydia Caputi’s driving jumper put Bowdoin back up, but Fox hit another jumper (Amherst, 39-38).

With 4:25 remaining, Kerrigan hit Bowdoin’s only 3-pointer of the game. But Fox responded again, swishing a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Amherst led 42-41.

“That step-back 3 got this place jumping,” Gromacki said.

The Polar Bears missed their next three shots – all 3-pointers – and finished 1 of 16 from behind the arc.

Amherst went up 45-42, but Abby Kelly hit a jump shot, closing the gap to 45-44 with 2:15 left.

The Mammoths missed a 3-pointer but rebounded, and Emma McCarthy drove inside for a 47-44 lead.

The Polar Bears had two chances to tie it but missed two 3-pointers. Lauren Petit of Bowdoin was fouled grabbing a rebound and made one free throw with nine seconds left, closing to 47-45.

With the Polar Bears having to foul, McCarthy put the game out of reach with two free throws.

Fox and McCarthy paced Amherst with 14 points apiece.

Kelly added 12 points for Bowdoin and Cordelia Stewart scored eight.

Both teams have four conference games left before the league tournament. Bowdoin next plays at home Friday against Middlebury (13-5, 3-2). The Mammoths have a tough game on Friday against Tufts (18-2, 5-1).

Amherst is playing well. Gromacki is looking for more.

“The good thing for us is we haven’t hit our stride and played out best basketball,” he said.