May 18, 2014

Salisbury Tops Washington For Championship Berth

By Shawn Nisson | | Twitter

In-Game Blog Replay


Salisbury advances to the NCAA Division III National Championship with a 13-8 victory over Washington College. (John Strohsacker)

SALISBURY, MD - Despite a slow start and an early lead for Washington College, the Salisbury Sea Gulls flew past the Shoremen to secure a 13-8 victory and a berth in next Sunday's Division III National Championship game.

The No. 2 Salisbury men's lacrosse team fell early to rival and No. 5 ranked Washington College, who posted a 3-0 run fueled by two goals from Hunter Nowicki and one from Sid Looney. But with a trip to the title game on the line, the Sea Gulls found their stride during a dominant second quarter outscoring the Shoremen 5-2.

The Gulls would extend their push into the third quarter as they tallied three more goals while keeping the Shoremen off the board for the entire 15-minute period. By the time Washington hit the back of the net in the fourth quarter the game was out of reach as Salisbury sealed the deal.  

"Congrats to Washington on outstanding season," said Salisbury coach Jim Berkman. "They are an extremely disciplined team that is well coached. We're fortunate to be the only team to beat them this year. They ran the table, had a tremendous season and have gotten Washington back on the map. It was an honor to play them tonight."

The game couldn't have gotten off to a better start for Washington as the Shoremen won the opening draw, set up on offense and scored on their first shot of the game. Just 58 seconds into the contest, before the record 2,375 fans in attendance had found their seats, Nowicki wiggled free of his defender and struck the back of the net for the first of his three goals on the day.

Washington would double their advantage midway through the frame as Looney was able to dodge away from his defender to gain access into the middle of the field. His bounce shot would beat Salisbury goalie Alex Taylor giving the Shoremen a 2-0 lead with 8:47 to play in the first quarter. Nowicki would strike again just over a minute later as he worked to create an angle on goal and stuck his shot.

"The guys were ready to play and that's a credit to this whole group that they come ready to play," said Washington coach Jeff Shirk. "We had the energy level. We knew we would need it all game to fly around and play very fast all game. I was proud of the boys because they came ready to play and they were fired up."

Salisbury rarely looked comfortable in the game's opening frame as their defense seemed a step behind the Washington attackmen, while the SU midfielders were unable to pass out of quick double teams in the offensive zone.

Washington keeper Ted DiSalvo made three saves in the first quarter but the senior was unable to save Salisbury attackman Rhett DePol's attempt with eight seconds left that got the Sea Gulls on the board.

"I think that was the first time that we went down by three and I knew something just had to happen," said DePol. "I was just trying to be that spark to get everything going. It wasn't anything crazy. I just made a play and the ball was in the back of the net."

Salisbury then received a break to start the second quarter as Washington's stellar faceoff man Michael Trapp, who won 16 of 23 draws on the night, was called for an illegal stick, a three-minute unreleasable penalty.

One goal was docked during the man-up opportunity and then another came just four seconds after it expired to knot the contest at three. The first tally of the stanza came off a great individual effort from Sean Fitzgerald, who scored a team high three goals. Fitzgerald received a pass on the right flank, faked a shot and caught everybody sleeping as he crashed the net to score from tight quarters. DePol would then even the contest at three all with just under 12 minutes left to play in the half.

Nowicki would give his side the lead once again as he capped off his first half hat trick effort on a slick shot that alluded Taylor. But SU's senior keeper and the defense playing in front of him tightened up considerably after that tally, limiting the number of good looks Washington got at the Salisbury cage.

The Shoremen would go scoreless for a stretch of nine-plus minutes of game time between Nowicki's tally to give his side a 4-3 lead and Casey Kermes' goal that came with just 35 seconds left in the half. During that stretch, Salisbury ripped off three scores of their own to give their side some much needed confidence heading into halftime.

"It was just a great team effort," said Berkman. "This is a true team. It's not a team of stars as we've had in the past - just a team that plays the Sea Gull system and takes what the defense gives them and plays extremely unselfish. Any given day it could be seven or eight guys that could be the star of the team."

After the intermission, Salisbury dominated play and wrestled away control of the game. Luke Phipps scored his second goal the game just over two minutes into the second half giving Salisbury a two-goal lead and the Sea Gulls never looked back.

A minute and a half later, Mike Kane tallied, and then with 5:27 left in the quarter, Greg Korvin scored the goal of the game. Korvin got tied up with a Washington defender but still was able to swim into the middle of the field and scored on a bounce shot with just one hand on his stick to give SU a 9-5 advantage.

"I think we got a little tight in the second half and it looked like we were pushing a little to hard," said Shirk. "Salisbury does such a great job of packing it in and being a bunch of big bodies that are well coached and if you press too much, you are going to turn the ball over against them."

Salisbury would score twice more to start the fourth quarter, on goals from Fitzgerald and Adam Stork, to balloon the Gulls margin to six at 11-5. Even with more than 10 minutes left to play, the bottle had been uncorked and the party inside of Sea Gull Stadium was rocking.

Salisbury will now turn their attention toward claiming the program's 11th National Championship in a game against Tufts next Sunday. Salisbury and Tufts have squared off twice before with the championship up for grabs. The Jumbos walked away victorious in 2010 before the Gulls got revenge in the 2011 rematch.

"We are really excited to be moving on to Baltimore," said Berkman. "[Tufts] is a great team. They've had a great season to date and we're honored to be playing them. We are excited we know we have our work cut out for us, but we like where we're at and with what we've done for 22 games. We will give it our best shot on Sunday."

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