By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: SU players celebrate a goal vs. Widener. Feb. 17. Emma Reider photo
Already with two losses on the season, the Salisbury University men’s lacrosse team had the chance to send a statement to the rest of the NCAA Division III lacrosse world on Saturday. The eighth-ranked Sea Gulls hosted long-time rival and No. 15 Stevenson University in a top-15 ranked battle.
Both teams were in need of a win. For Salisbury, it was SU’s first ranked match-up since a two-game losing streak at Ohio Wesleyan and Gettysburg. For Stevenson, the Mustangs were winless through two games, each against a top-10 team.
“This game is always a pretty close game no matter what even if one team is not as good as the other. It’s always a good rivalry,” SU junior midfielder Corey Gwin said.
After a long first possession, the Mustangs struck first when sophomore midfielder Ethan Christensen won a one-on-one battle for his fifth goal of the season. That was Stevenson’s only goal in the first quarter.
It took until seven minutes into the quarter for Salisbury to strike back when Gwin found the back of the cage via an assist from sophomore midfielder Emory Wongus.
After Gwin’s tally, three more SU goals finished out the quarter to put the Sea Gulls on top 4-1 on a four-goal unanswered run. Two goals came from senior midfielder Garrett Reynolds alongside another point from Wongus.
“I thought we played awfully good in the first half,” SU Head Coach Jim Berkman said. “We really moved the ball well. We executed.”
The second quarter was much more evenly contested as both teams recorded multiple goals. Via another Reynolds goal, SU stretched their lead to 7-3 into the final minutes of the first half. With 49 seconds left, Stevenson senior midfielder Kyle Karsian got a goal back, giving the Mustangs brief momentum headed to the break.
If quarters are won, the third quarter went to the Mustangs. With a three-goal lead in a tight game, Salisbury offense slowed down and could not find goals despite multiple shots. SU did not tally a goal in the third frame.
“In the second half, we were a little tight in that third quarter. We missed a couple opportunities. We had a lot of shots in the third quarter. We just didn’t reach the cage,” Berkman said.
This allowed Stevenson back in the game as the Sea Gulls were their own worst enemy at times. In the aggressive rivalry game, the teams combined for 16 penalties. SU had five in the third quarter.
Stevenson took advantage of Salisbury mistakes, scoring four goals on nine opportunities on the man-up. Two of these goals came in the third quarter on the Mustangs’ way to tie the game by the fourth quarter.
That tying goal came with about two minutes remaining on the stick of Karsian via the assist from Christensen. The four-goal comeback changed the narrative of the game as the rivals entered the final stanza of the game deadlocked.
“Stevenson’s a really good team,” SU senior midfielder Troy Miller said. “They have a lot of skilled offense guys that can really shoot the ball. So, we knew they could get a couple and get on a run. We had to just keep the course going. We played well.”
Tight battles across the field continued into the fourth quarter. Aiding the strong SU defensive effort were the Salisbury attackmen too. Four SU offensive players recorded a caused turnover in the game.
One of those moments came through Gwin five minutes into the quarter. As Karsian went across the midfield during an attempted clear, Gwin swept the ball away for a caused turnover. Scooping up the ground ball, Gwin raced towards the Stevenson goal on the transition attack.
“Honestly I was just seeing what their defense was doing; if I was going to pass it or shoot it there. Just put it away. It was a pretty big goal,” Gwin said.
He took the ball himself and shot low on Stevenson sophomore goalie Sam Ross. The ball hit off Ross’ inner thigh and ricocheted into the cage, giving the Sea Gulls the lead 8-7.
Via a Stevenson penalty on the next face-off, Salisbury was set-up for another man-up opportunity. That chance was capitalized on by Reynolds, notching his fifth goal of the game. It was the third five-plus goal game of the season for the senior.
“As one of the only seniors on offense, I feel like I need to pick up the younger guys who are just getting in the wings. I try to lead by example,” Reynolds said.
From there, the Salisbury defense locked things down in the game, winning the contest 9-7. After Stevenson scored three goals in the fourth quarter, they went goalless in the fourth. SU won the ground ball and caused turnover battles plus-eleven and plus-nine respectively.
Miller doubled his statistics during the win by leading SU with four ground balls and three caused turnovers. This week the SU defense got back to their aggressive ways totaling 29 caused turnovers and 76 ground balls over two games. SU tallied 15 and 41 respectively over their two-game losing streak.
“We just had to get back to our ways,” Miller said. “We know we have six, seven really good defensemen. It we can really get out on people, we can make them do what we want them to do rather than react to what they’re doing.”
An area of concern recently for the Sea Gulls was also the turnover category. Previously, SU gave up the ball 19 times in three of the last four games. The total was only 11 vs. Stevenson as the Mustangs gave up the ball 19 times.
Gwin adds in that the win helped boost the team’s confidence and morale, especially with the game being against a rival. SU’s next game will feature another rival during the annual ‘War at the Shore’ against Washington College (Md.) next Saturday in Sea Gull Stadium.
“It was a good team effort,” Berkman said. “We needed it. There’s gonna be a lot of games like this this year. There’s a lot of good teams. We’re growing as an offensive team and maturing as a defense.”
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