April 4, 2009

Stevenson Snaps Salisbury's 105-Game CAC Streak

by Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

SALISBURY, Md. -- The chant was strong and loud from the visiting fans of Stevenson University, who bused down hundreds of supporters to cheer on their top-ranked Mustangs against fourth-ranked Salisbury University on Saturday night under the lights at Sea Gull Stadium. The
Mustang faithful chanted "We're number one; we're number one" as the final minutes ticked off the clock in the 12-8 thrashing of the Sea Gulls.

A chant like that had been reserved for the mighty Sea Gulls, two-time defending NCAA Division III national champions, for the past several years, but on this night, the Division III giant was tamed by the Mustangs.

The loss is the first for the Salisbury in the Capital Athletic Conference since it joined back in 1995, a streak of 105 consecutive games.

"It great to be the team to end that streak," said Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene, in his fifth season at the helm.

In the past week, Salisbury suffered two losses and saw four winning streaks stomped on by Gettysburg and Stevenson.

"All streaks have to come to an end. Stevenson is a real quality team," said Salisbury senior midfielder Kylor Berkman.

Stevenson (11-0) learned its lesson from Salisbury (11-2) last season, as the Sea Gulls swept the regular-season and CAC championship game against the Mustangs. In the conference title game, Salisbury used a 9-0 third quarter to break open an 8-5 game en route to the 20-10 victory to
give the Sea Gulls their 14th consecutive CAC title.

Salisbury tied Saturday's game at six when junior midfielder Mike Von Kamecke scored less than two minutes into the third quarter. From there Stevenson went on a 5-0 run to take an 11-6 lead as the teams headed into the final quarter of play. Mustang junior attackman Richie Ford
scored three goals and senior midfielder Nicola Bevacqua beat SU goalie Johnny Rodriguez (13 saves) twice.

Bevacqua and Ford both tallied a game-high four goals. Ford's goal at the 5:31 mark was a man-up goal assisted by fellow junior Steve Kazimer (one goal, two assists).

"We learned our lessons from the past," said Cantabene about the third quarter reversal. "We made them draw a lot of fouls. We told our players to be patient."

Stevenson outshot Salisbury 14-5 in the decisive third quarter.

Rodriguez stopped seven shots for the Sea Gulls, but the Mustangs picked apart the maroon and gold defense.

"In the third quarter we had four fouls and they got a man-up goal," said Jim Berkman, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA men's lacrosse history. "We had some opportunities but our shots weren't there."

The Sea Gulls were unluck,y as four shots hit either the crossbar or post in the game, and Salisbury was sloppy in the second half with 17 turnovers, nearly double its total from the first half.

Stevenson wasn't much better, as the Mustangs made 12 turnovers in the fourth quarter alone as the door was open, slightly, for the Sea Gulls to make a late rally.

"We have to play 60 minutes of lacrosse. We had some bad luck," said Salisbury head coach Jim Berkman.

Salisbury scored two goals in the fourth quarter from freshmen Sam Bradman (one goal, one assist) and Matt Cannone (two goals) to cut the Mustang lead to three, 11-8, with eight minutes to play. Stevenson ended Salisbury's chance for a comeback when Ford deposited his fourth goal of the game at the 1:58 mark. The Stevenson bench erupted in excitement after the goal, as Cantabene jumped for joy on the sideline along with his coaches and players, resembling a football team with their 63-man roster.

The first half lived up to the hype centered on this highly anticipated contest between two of the best teams in Division III. Stevenson struck first just four minutes and 12 seconds into the game before Salisbury tallied two goals and added a later goal to close out the first quarter up 3-2.

Cannone added his first on the day to begin the fourth quarter as Salisbury held its biggest lead of the game 4-2. Stevenson knotted the game at 4-4 on goals from Mike Simon and Kazmier. The Mustangs led 6-5 at the half.

One of the key matchups was Simon on Berkman, the reigning Division III Player and Midfielder of the Year. Berkman had just four shots (one on goal) and was limited to one assist and no

"I thought Mike Simon did a great job on Kylor Berkman," said Cantabene. "Our defense did a great job."

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered for the Sea Gulls: Can this team return to the conference championship game and rebound against Stevenson on the road? If Salisbury suffers a third loss, this season will it still make the NCAA tournament? Is there a possibility the perennial powerhouse from the Eastern Shore could be a "bubble team" in '09?

Even though it is only the second loss this season and the fourth in 139 games, dating back to 2003, are the Sea Gulls falling back into the middle of the pack among the top teams
in Division III?

On the other hand Cantabene has built a power at Stevenson. In five seasons, he has taken the
Mustangs from an afterthought to the best team in the country. The Mustangs have questions of their own to answer in the next few weeks.

What does this win do for its program? Can Stevenson ride this momentum to a CAC championship and its first NCAA tournament berth? Is the No. 1 ranked team ready to be the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament?

The loss for Salisbury is particularly tough to swallow, as the Sea Gulls were beaten by a team that models itself after the maroon and gold. The Mustangs looked faster, stronger and better than the Sea Gulls on Saturday. Stevenson shot the ball well and ran by and through defenders who looked a step slow and a bit overmatched, something Salisbury had been used to doing to opponents over the years.

"We want to be what they are. We respect the heck out of their program," said Cantabene.

Stevenson took a big step Saturday in its quest to emulate as it wrote its own history.

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