By CHASE GORSKI
The offense led the way as Salisbury (19-1) continued their NCAA Championship repeat-campaign with a dominant 25-12 victory over Hampden-Sydney College (16-6) in the third round of the tournament.
The Sea Gulls started the game in the hole early when a failed clear attempt led to a turnover and a quick goal from Tiger’s junior attacker Connor Pool just 29 seconds into the game. It was a quick mistake that led to HSC grabbing the momentum and an early 1-0 lead—but that would not last long.
Similar to their second round matchup against Misericordia, where the Gulls conceded the first goal in the first and then rallied to take back the lead, Salisbury went on a seven-goal run in the first quarter. By the end of the first, the Gulls led by a score of 7-3.
Salisbury kept the pressure on throughout the next two quarters, outscoring the Tigers 15-2 and dominating the battle for possession with ease. SU head coach Jim Berkman felt that their production on offense was their key to victory.
“I felt that for three quarters our offense was playing at another level as we continue to improve,” Berkman said. “[They] really know how to play together and be extremely unselfish which led to a lot of easy goals.”
Coach Berkman’s offense was firing on all cylinders on Saturday afternoon with eight different players recording a goal, including big contributions from senior attackers Nathan Blondino and Nick Garbarino. The two senior stand-outs totaled 20 points between the two of them and continue to be the driving forces on offense.
“We were all on the same page. . .we communicated well,” Blondino said. “You can shut one guy down but the rest of the five guys are going to do it for each other—the whole offense is complete.”
While the Sea Gulls settled into their usual goal-scoring offense, their stout defense provided HSC with rare chances in front of the net. Nearly doubling the Tigers’ groundball total and completing 21 of 24 clearing attempts, the Gulls were a brick wall in front of senior goalie Colin Reymann in the cage.
Coach Berkman had used junior defenseman Kyle Tucker in the midfield to eliminate HSC’s top two scoring threats in junior midfielders Chandler Shaheen and Hunter Brown.
“They were virtually taken out of the game. . .that gets you out of your comfort zone; now you can’t do your normal things,” Berkman said. “Two of their best players were being negated by two of the better defenders in the country.”
The game seemed to be all but over by the start of the fourth quarter after the Sea Gulls had propelled ahead to a commanding 22-5 lead. The Tigers began to show some life late in the game, scoring seven goals in the final quarter.
Hampden-Sydney junior attacker Ian Levin continued his great individual season by leading the offense with four goals and four assists. Levin led the Tigers in goals and points this season with 57 and 91 respectively.
“Salisbury’s defense is always good. . .we knew it was going to be a physical game,” Levin said. “It overwhelmed us at times and the pressure got to us, but like coach said, ‘super proud of our team.’”
The Tigers tallied some goals late in the game after the Gulls made lineup substitutions to boost their confidence, and seemed to get into a better rhythm despite it being too little too late.
“It helps when they sub-out their All-American poles. . .it’s difficult to come up here and play,” Levin said. “Once we settled in and realized the situation we were in, I think that’s when guys started to just play lacrosse.”
HSC first-year head coach Jason Rostan was incredibly proud of his team’s resilience in the face of the top team in the nation.
“Once you get to the tournament, you have to get through Salisbury, so I felt like it was a great opportunity for us,” coach Rostan said. “As far as our team’s concerned, couldn’t be more proud of our guys this season.”
The Tigers are already looking forward to their next shot at the Sea Gulls when they will come visit for an exhibition next season.
As for the Sea Gulls, they remain alive and strong in the tournament as one of the final eight who have advanced to the quarterfinals. After waiting to determine who their opponents would be, it was only right that they would go head-to-head with the team that gave them their only blemish on what could have been a perfect regular season record.
After a big win over Franklin and Marshall by a score of 17-9, Cabrini University sealed the rematch that all of Division III lacrosse will be watching. In their final game of the regular season, Salisbury was upset on the road in overtime by the Cavaliers 11-10.
Come next Wednesday, Salisbury will be looking to sweeten their trip to the Final Four with redemption against the team that handed them their only loss this year.