By ZACH GILLELAND
In SU head coach Jim Berkman’s tenure at Salisbury, each of his teams has won at least one NCAA Tournament game with only one—the 1989 squad in his first season—failing to do so.
The streak lives.
Facing the MAC (Middle Atlantic Conference) Freedom Conference-Champion Misericordia Cougars (13-4), the Sea Gulls (18-1) dominated nearly every statistical category en-route to a 24-3 victory on Wednesday to advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Even with the commanding victory, Salisbury had its share of struggles.
With a week-and-a-half layoff and facing a defense they had not seen all year, the Sea Gull offense could not get into a rhythm in the first quarter, scoring only two goals. Alternating between both man-to-man and zone defensive units, Misericordia forced Salisbury to take only seven shots in the quarter.
“[We were] just trying to throw a couple of monkey wrenches into a well-oiled machine,” Cougar head coach Jim Ricardo said when discussing his team’s defensive game plan. “Be in it, rotate on defense and try to slow them down.”
Misericordia junior midfielder Jake Kocovsky kicked off the scoring with a man-up goal 10 minutes in. The Cougars outshot the Sea Gulls 10-7 in the first quarter.
“We missed a lot of opportunities in the first quarter,” Berkman said. “We were right on the doorstep several times and we didn’t put the ball in the back of the goal.”
Two minutes later SU senior attacker Carson Kalama tied things up. Kalama added a second goal with four seconds remaining in the first, assisted by a beautiful pass from freshman midfielder Josh Melton.
The offense started to gel in the second quarter, scoring seven goals. The Sea Gull offense controlled possession throughout the quarter, outshooting the Cougars 14-4.
After surrendering the first goal of the game, Salisbury scored 13 unanswered goals.
The Sea Gulls spread the ball around throughout the game, finding the open man and breaking down the defense. The defensive breakdown allowed Kalama and senior attacker Nick Garbarino to find themselves open in front of the crease, allowing for high percentage opportunities.
“Our middies can all feed the ball real well and they all play under control,” Berkman said. “We have six middies that carry the ball like attackmen and all are pretty good shooters. All of them are capable of getting the ball to three of the best finishers in the country.”
Kalama led the team offensively with eight points, which included six goals. Salisbury assisted on 14 of its 24 goals.
“The first quarter we had to feel [the defense] out a little bit,” Kalama said. “In the second quarter we were able to run our offense. Getting back in the game situation, it opened up in the second and third quarters.”
All three Sea Gull attackers—Kalama, Garbarino and senior Nate Blondino—contributed four or more goals. SU outshot Misericordia 52-23, including a 45-13 advantage over the final three quarters.
Contributing to the offense, face-off specialists Duncan Campbell and TJ Logue converted 23 of 31 face-off attempts. Salisbury improved its face-off percentage to a 59.5 percent success rate this season.
“When you have guys like [long-stick middie Andrew Ternahan] and Jeremiah [LaClair], it really helps when those guys come in and clean up,” Campbell said. “We were just focusing on us today and I think it really helped.”
The Salisbury defense smothered the Misericordia attack, forcing tough shots on difficult angles. The Sea Gulls dominated the groundball battle 52-24 and successfully cleared on 25 of their 27 attempts. At one point, the Cougars went without a goal for almost 27 minutes.
“The game plan is the same every time we go into a game—shut down the opponent, take away what they do best—and we’re always seeming to do that because of our preparation,” junior defender Kyle Tucker said. “Everyone’s together as one unit.”
With the victory, Salisbury advances to the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. The Sea Gulls will welcome in the Hampden-Sydney Tigers, winners of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC).
“It’s an exciting time to be a Gull,” Berkman said. “We look forward to Saturday.”