May 18, 2013

Salisbury, Trinity to Meet Again for National Championship

Sea Gulls down Middlebury, Bantams beat Cortland to set up rematch

by Paul Krome | | Live Blog Replay

Katie Bollhorst helped Salisbury climb back from their first halftime deficit of the season to beat Middlebury and advance to Sunday's Division III national title game.
© Scott McCall

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Salisbury goalie Ashton Wheatley has been down this road before, facing a powerful Middlebury team in the NCAA Division II women's semifinals. This year, however, she drove the bus.

Wheatley, a sophomore, made a career-high 12 saves and caused three turnovers, keeping the Sea Gulls in the game just long enough for them to solve Panthers midfielder Catherine Fowler in the draw circle and rally to defeat Middlebury, 8-7, at Stevenson's Mustang Stadium on Saturday. Salisbury returns to the NCAA final Sunday against another familiar foe, Trinity, an 8-6 winner over Cortland.

"Losing the national championship game [last year to Trinity], that's always in the back of your mind whenever you do something," said senior attacker Lauren Feusahrens, who led Salisbury with three goals. "We knew our goal this year, and we knew we needed to fight."

Unlike last year's semis, when Wheatley needed to make just four saves in the Gulls' 15-7 dismantling of the Panthers, Salisbury needed every save, kick and lunge from its second-year goalie. That's because Fowler helped Middlebury win the first eight draws to slow the tempo, resulting in a 5-3 halftime lead — the Sea Gulls' first deficit at the break in a game this season.

They fought back in part by mixing Bethany Baer into the draw rotation against Fowler, and the sophomore midfielder fared better than her senior teammate, Kara Koolage, did in the first half. Baer helped the Gulls win the first two, and five of eight, draws after the half. Kate Haker converted a feed from behind by Katie Bollhorst just 56 seconds into the second half, and Bollhorst fed Feusahrens a few minutes later to tie the game at 5.

Salisbury completed a momentum-changing three-goal run at the 21:29 mark when Bollhorst handed out her third consecutive assist, and fifth of the game, to a cutting Maggie Roundy.

Middlebury tied the game at 6 and again at 7 at the 9:09 mark on a quick-stick rebound goal by Liza Herzog after Chrissy Ritter hit the pipe, but a second straight draw win by Baer started the winning possession for the Gulls. Shelby Nemecek drove down the middle and scored at 8:32 to provide the final margin.

"We hadn't seen [Middlebury's] type of pressure defense, and we made some bad decisions on feeds that put us in a hole," said Salisbury coach Jim Nestor. "We made some better decisions in the second half and just found the easy opening."

Baer's effort in the circle helped.

"In the first half I just did what I normally do — try to draw the ball to a teammate behind me," Fowler said. "In the second half they were switching off, and that's a different factor. When you have two different people taking draws, that makes it less readable."

The halftime deficit could've been much larger for Salisbury if not for Wheatley, who made seven saves and caused two turnovers in the frame. With about 12:30 to play, she made a kick save that started a Sea Gull possession. Feusahrens worked it down to Bollhorst, who fed Allison Toomey right in front for a 3-2 Gull lead at 12:20. Later, a Sea Gull defender tipped a Ritter free-position attempt, and Wheatley adjusted her lunge to make the save.

"When the ball changes path, your heart drops for a second. I think I pulled a groin on some of the shots," said Wheatley, who sported an ice bag wrapped to her knee.

Her aggressiveness hurt her on occasion. Wheatley went for the interception of a pass from Ellen Halle on the wing to a cutting Herzog. The miss easily allowed Herzog to score, starting Middlebury's three-goal run in the first half at 11:20. And just before halftime, Wheatley intercepted a pass, started up field, then lost it back to Middlebury. She was then called for a foul, and on the free-position, Alice Pfeifer easily scored on the virtually empty cage at 1:16 to give the Panthers the two-goal lead at the break.

But Wheatley's slender frame and athleticism helped the Gulls stave off Middlebury late, when Kate Butcher forced a Salisbury turnover. Panther middie Laurel Pascal sprinted from midfield, only slightly behind Wheatley, who got back just in time to rebuke Pascal and then Emma Kramer on a follow up.

"I knew I just wanted to put everything out there and leave a piece of me on the field. Now we get to do it again tomorrow," Wheatley said.

Shea Kusiak had a hand in five of Trinity's eight goals, as the defending champion Bantams overcame an early three-goal deficit to win 8-6.
© Scott McCall

Sunday will feature a rematch of last year's NCAA championship game, won by the Bantams, 8-7, in Montclair, N.J. That nearly wasn't the case, as Cortland jumped on the defending champs in the second semifinal, 3-0. Four different scorers countered for Trinity, however, before Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Player of the Year Maria Di Fato fed Emma Hayes-Hurley for her second goal of the game with 2:30 left, forging a 4-4 halftime tie. Not unlike the first semifinal, one team (Cortland) dominated the draw circle, winning eight of nine.

"It was a battle. It wasn't our cleanest game of the year. But Cortland doesn't allow you to play a nice, pretty game," Trinity coach Kate Livesay said. "I thought we fought through a tough start to the game and sort of settled in knowing it was going to be tough and we were going to have to fight for every ball and every call. Once we began to battle a little more for draw controls in the second half it became a more comfortable game for us.

The squads traded goals to start the second half. Stingy defense by the Red Dragons started a fast break, finished when Erica Geremia scored on a pass from Marilyn Farrell at the 23:18 mark for a 6-5 Cortland lead. The Bantams responded with a 3-0 run. On the doorstep, Molly Cox patiently faked a couple times to beat Hutchinson after a pass from Kusiak at 14:21 to tie the game. Martha Griffin fed Hadley Duncan for a similar dunk, then scored on a pass from Kusiak at 7:18 to give Trinity an 8-6 lead. Kusiak had a hand in five of her team's eight goals.

The lead held up amidst defense and ball control. Freshman defender Ashley Stewart intercepted a Cortland pass with six minutes to play. Jamie Flood with a caused turnover at 4:15 to get the ball back for the Dragons, but Mallory Hinman got it back for Trinity at the 3:30 mark. Hutchinson left the cage at 2:45 to begin matching up with a Bantam as Cortland sent double-teams at the ball carriers. Trinity evaded all such efforts until Gina Campese caused a turnover at midfield with 50 seconds left. But Cortland could only manage a Geremia a shot that freshman Emily Mooney (eight saves) corralled easier than any other shot she faced, and the Bantams celebrated a return to the national championship game.

"Since really this point last year, their goal was to get back to this place today," Livesay said. "And from the moment when we came back in September, everything they did was with the intention of preparing this team for this journey. It is incredibly rewarding knowing that we have gotten to this point but we know there is a lot left to do.

"An unbeaten Salisbury team is a tall task but I think we are really proud of the cohesive unit that we have out on the field."

Cortland's season ends in the semifinals for a third straight season.

"It's three years in a row I've sat in this press conference," said Cortland coach Kathy Taylor. "We lost to a talented Trinity team. It's disappointing. We came here hoping for a do-over, and the result wasn't what we were hoping for."

Check back to at noon ET Sunday for live coverage of the NCAA Division III women's championship game between Salisbury and Trinity.

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