By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: Midfielder Emory Wongus (center) and other Sea Gulls meet with the SU coaching staff during their game vs. Widener. Feb. 17. Emma Reider photo
Sometimes effort on the field of play cannot be measured by stats in a box score. That extra hustle statistic never appears next to goals, ground balls or clears.
For the venue of the sporting event, its impact is never measured game-by-game, but it may have one of the greatest effects overall. Sea Gull Stadium provides this for Salisbury men’s lacrosse.
“It’s definitely better to be home,” SU senior defenseman Kyle Tucker said. “You’re at Sea Gull Stadium. There’s a nice vibe to it. Everyone only has to drive five minutes to the game.”
The elimination of travel from the game day routine and also proximity to fan base has certainly had an impact statistically so far in 2018. For a program filled with high expectations after back-to-back national championships, SU’s home confines have provided strength during struggle this season.
Statistically the contrasts are black-and-white in terms of home and road contests. On offense at home, SU averages 7.25 more goals-per-game, four more assists-per-game and win 12.5 percent more face-offs. On defense at home, SU causes 5.3 more turnovers and allows six fewer goals.
Historically in the last few seasons, this phenomenon is not something new either. The program has not lost a home regular season game since March 25, 2015. Their last postseason home loss came on April 30, 2016.
Paired with a perfect 8-0 record over on East Campus with all three losses coming on the road, the results are evident. After a tough second half at No. 2 York (Pa.) last Saturday, the Sea Gulls won two straight CAC games over Wesley (25-3 win) and Southern Virginia (22-9 win) to get back on track.
With senior midfielder Garrett Reynolds out for the week, other offensive players stepped up for the Sea Gulls and could provide some steady support down the line. Quietly tallying 18 points this season is sophomore midfielder Emory Wongus.
“Emory’s been playing better every game,” SU Head Coach Jim Berkman said. “Right now, the way he’s playing he might be our best midfielder with his efficiency. He’s definitely in the mix right there.”
The Cambridge, Md. native shined recently scoring at least two goals in each of the last three games, including a career-high five against SVU on Saturday. Most of his success came off dodges one-on-one against a defenseman, cutting inside for the chances.
“I don’t know,” Wongus said. “I was feeling good. It was nice weather today. The offense was just moving the ball around really well today, and we were just making it work. We had some good looks and nice cuts.”
Another face showcasing well was sophomore attackman Kevin Lacon, playing in just his fifth game of the season vs. SVU. The Blue Bell, Pa. native posted three points against the Knights, offering support behind the cage on offense.
Berkman says that he was impressed with Lacon’s finishing and ability to get best the short-stick defenders. After great work in practice, he forecasts that the attackman will see more time this week against two ranked opponents.
This week the Sea Gulls will face their third ranked road opponent of the season in No. 17 CNU before hosting the rising No. 5 Cabrini Cavaliers on Saturday back at Sea Gull Stadium.
The game at CNU on Wednesday takes on even greater importance now after Salisbury fell a game back of conference leader York. With just their fourth game on the road, SU is still in search of their first road win after losing two games in overtime too.
CNU features yet another powerful offense for the Sea Gulls to contend with. The Captains average over 14 goals-per-game behind veteran Matthew Crist and freshman Dylan Rice.
Just like the game against SVU, SU’s best defensive strategy might be to just keep the ball away from that powerful CNU offense.
“It really doesn’t come down to who we’re playing,” SU junior face-off specialist T.J. Logue said. “As long as we do what we’re capable of, we can beat any guy like we did today. It just comes down to what we do.”
Logue and junior Brett Malamphy have formed a strong duo at the ‘X’ for the Sea Gulls recently. Coming from UMBC, Malamphy’s quick clamping ability has shined at times this season, winning 29-of-36 face-offs (80.5 percent) over the last three games.
Logue went 16-of-20 against SVU on Saturday against one of the conference’s top face-off specialists in Jace Thomas. On Wednesday, the duo will battle with CNU’s Tony Cruz and the senior’s 61.3 percent career face-off efficiency.
Logue says that he seeks the challenge and enjoys prepping for the top opponents.
“It’s really exciting,” Logue said. “I like going into a game when you know you’re going against someone good. It’s a lot more fun to prepare and really focus. It feels even better when you do really good like today [vs. SVU]”
The question at this point will be if Salisbury can find similar success on the road Wednesday. Facing two ranked opponents this week, SU has the chance to turn the page on two overtime losses and the York loss this season.
To change the tide on the road, Berkman sees the offense as the key. The success of the unit in the two-game home stand bodes well for the rest of the season, as the Sea Gulls posted games of 41 percent and 52 percent shooting respectively. Those are the first two games above 40 percent shooting this season.
Adding 26 assists, 12.5 turnovers-per-game and only one missed clear over the two games solved many of SU’s early season issues. Against SVU, the SU offense moved with a new rhythm and chemistry, one similar to the last two seasons.
“Away we need to step it up,” Tucker said. “We need to learn how to be better on the road and bring what we do at home on the road.”
With a spotlight on turnovers, penalties and shooting percentage this campaign, fans and the the team itself will learn a lot this week about their chances for a deep run come May.