May 14, 2014

WAC Downs Stevenson, Sets up War on the Shore Final Four Battle

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Washington College edged defending national champion Stevenson 12-11 on the road Wednesday night in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, setting up a meeting with rival Salisbury in Sunday's semifinals.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Get ready for a War on the Shore, NCAA tournament style.

Washington College attackman Jim Cusick's fifth goal of the night, with 22.5 seconds left, coupled with a late defensive stop and goalie Ted DiSalvo's 17 saves were just enough to give the Shoremen a 12-11 upset of defending national champion Stevenson in an NCAA Division III men's quarterfinal Wednesday night.

Washington (18-1) will play top-seeded Salisbury (20-1) in the national semifinals on Sunday at Sea Gull Stadium. Salisbury beat Denison 15-5 in another quarterfinal held concurrently Wednesday night. The Shoremen will play in their first final four since 2004.

"Everybody is always asking if WAC is back," Cusick said. "I'm pumped. War on the Shore at the right time of year. It's going to be a fun game."

Despite losing the faceoff battle 21-6, being out-ground balled 40-31 and outshot 55-44, the Shoremen managed to escape the Mustangs home turf with the victory in their first quarterfinal game since 2008.

WAC even went to its backup faceoff man Ray Circo after Stevenson's Brent Hiken had a field day against Michael Trapp (2-for-15) in an unexpected lopsided draw battle for two of the nation's top-10 specialists. It was Stevenson's first NCAA tournament loss in 10 games played at Mustang Stadium.

"We just found a way to get it done," Washington College fourth-year coach Jeff Shirk said. "At the end of the day, I know their guys wanted it really bad, but our guys wanted it just as bad. Instead of last year [in the second round against Stevenson] where it just kind of fizzled for us, guys were able to come through in the end. I can't say it was fun to watch, but it was fun when it was over."

DiSalvo's big performance certainly helped, as did going 5-for-6 on extra man opportunities.

"The defense really let me see outside shots," DiSalvo said. "When I get in a groove, it's just kind of easy for me. The first couple goals they forced it inside and got good looks. When we started taking that away, I started seeing outside shots and made those saves."

Chris Dashiell scored two goals with five assists for Stevenson, which ends the season 19-3. Hunter Nowicki added a goal and five assists for the Shoremen.

Before the ending, the second quarter was key. Washington College held Stevenson scoreless while scoring six goals, three of them coming on the man-up to lead 7-3 at half.

The Mustangs came back swinging with six third-quarter goals and it was a one-goal Shoremen edge entering the fourth quarter.

It was shades of last year, when Stevenson rallied for a 17-13 win over WAC in the NCAA tournament second round. But this time was different.

"We played one bad quarter," Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene said. "That was the difference. We came ready to play in the third. We played well in the second half. We just didn't make it happen."

Each side scored a goal in the first half of the fourth quarter, setting up a tense final minutes. After Cusick's go-ahead score from about 13 yards on the left wing — through a screened Stevenson goalie Dimitri Pecunes — Hiken won the ensuing faceoff and the Stevenson bench called timeout with 18 seconds left.

In the huddle, the Stevenson staff and players set up a pick play but it never materialized after the break. Attackman Stephen Banick tossed a pass inside, but it fell helplessly to the ground.

After the final whistle, there was no love lost between the two coaching staffs, who exchanged words on the field after the post-game handshake and again in post-game interviews. Cantabene said after the game, "Tip my hat to Washington College. Once they learn how to win with respect a little bit, we'll be all right," referencing his displeasure with public comments by Shirk leading upto the game. "They'll learn to win one day."

Cantabene even said "Go Salisbury," during a post-game interview with Stevenson's school broadcast, referencing Washington's next rival opponent.

"His players were great. His players didn't say anything," Shirk said. "It was him and a couple of his assistant coaches that were the issue. ... He tries to push that mentality onto opponents. It works most of the time. But you get in tight games against teams of equal talent and you get yourself in a dogfight. I've got no ill will with Paul. ... We're going to worry about us."

The Shoremen have now won 13 games in a row since losing to Salisbury 12-7 on March 19. The Shoremen will get another shot, in more ways than one.

Salisbury was the Shoremen's opponent the last time Washington advanced to the semifinals in 2004. The Sea Gulls won 13-11.

"It's final four. It's win or go home," Nowicki said. "It's what we wanted. You have to take one game at a time, but you couldn't ask for a better game. War on the Shore: Round 2."

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