By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: SU face-off specialist Brett Malamphy wins a clamp. May 9. Emma Reider photo
At halftime of their NCAA Tournament Third Round game Saturday night, the Salisbury University men’s lacrosse team entered the locker room under unusual circumstances. The Sea Gulls were down by six goals, 9-3 on their home field.
It was the third time this season that SU was facing Christopher Newport University, winning the previous two matchups 6-5 and 14-3 respectively. However, this one was off to a different start.
Salisbury was generating chances, but not much was coming out of their 21 shots. Meanwhile, nearly everything was working for CNU with nine goals off just 15 shots. CNU sophomore goalkeeper Scott McAneney was also having a career game with 11 saves in just the first half.
“We talked about not taking the first shot,” SU Head Coach Jim Berkman said. “I thought that we settled for the first shot. It was easy for us to get shots tonight. The first time we played them, we struggled to get shots against their defense. Tonight, it was almost like it was too easy to get shots because we just settled.”
For the veterans in the group like senior midfielder Garrett Reynolds, the brief halftime break gave the Sea Gulls enough time to regroup and strategize.
“[McAneney] got hot in the first half. He made saves and it was 9-3 at halftime,” Reynolds said. “We sat in the locker room and said, ‘guys it’s one possession at a time. It’ll happen.’ So that’s what we did. We worked the ball around. We didn’t settle. We hit shots in the middle.”
While the offense looked for better opportunities, the Sea Gull defense needed to slow down the Captains’ dynamic offensive duo of freshman Dylan Rice and senior Matthew Crist. The two combined for 13 points in the game.
With only two saves through the halfway point of the second quarter, SU sophomore goalkeeper Brandon Warren was pulled from the cage. SU’s Anthony Stavrakis took over for the rest of the quarter.
“For me, it just cleared my head,” Warren said. “It gave me a couple minutes to sit back and get myself into this big game. I think that was huge in the second half and that’s why we held them to two goals.”
Warren was told that he would be headed back into the game after the half, a second chance for him and the defense to regroup and make a stand. Out of the break, the same story was told as Rice scored off an assist from junior attackman Lucas Barry to give CNU a 10-3 lead.
It was then that something clicked in SU. At the 9:43 mark of the third quarter, junior midfielder Zach Pompea found sophomore attackman Griffin Moroney for a goal, cutting the CNU lead to 10-4.
As the SU defense began to settle in during the second half, CNU’s amount of chances began to decrease and slow-down. LSM Cory Berry finished the game leading SU with four ground balls and three caused turnovers.
“We weren’t letting them pass the ball around,” Berkman said. “We took them out of their comfort zone. They had to beat us one-on-one to score. The short-sticks did a good job at denying their men in the shutoff situations. It allowed our long-poles to go to work.”
For a time, both defenses were locked in a tight battle, shutting down the opposition. McAneney continued with an additional eight saves in the second half. Back out on the field, Warren contributed five more saves to the SU cause.
“Defensively I think we just needed to get some confidence,” Warren said. “We came out very flat. We just fed off the offense’s confidence. As they started scoring goals, we felt that we could do our job down here because they were doing their thing.”
Those scoring chances finally began to find the back of the net with under three minutes remaining in the third quarter. It was then that SU scored seven consecutive goals over just 10 minutes of game time. Moroney contributed three goals on the run, which more broadly was a 9-0 run. CNU went on a 27-minute scoreless streak.
“As we started going on a run, we realized that they were kind of getting discombobulated on defense,” Reynolds said. “They were either in zone or in man. When they were in man, they were so discombobulated that we were just cutting off ball, finding the spots. We played with more confidence in the second half too.”
With each goal scored, a large Sea Gull fan base in Sea Gull Stadium grew louder until the home-field advantage was back in the Sea Gulls’ favor. While Moroney scored the go-ahead goal halfway through the final quarter, Reynolds scored a key insurance goal to give SU the 12-10 lead with about two and a half minutes left in the game.
That insurance goal was proven to be needed with CNU breaking their scoreless stride with 59 seconds left in the contest. Crist found Barry to make it a one-goal game.
As Salisbury looked to burn out the clock with a few seconds left, CNU ended up with a chance with about four seconds left. The Captains did get a chance near the crease just as the buzzer sounded, but Warren was there to fend it off either way to seal the 12-11 comeback win.
“You just keep battling and your defense holds them to two goals in the second half and it gives you an opportunity to win so my hats off to the guys for never giving up and playing until the last whistle,” Berkman said.
A major factor in the comeback was the possession game with SU junior face-off specialists Brett Malamphy and T.J. Logue at the center. CNU senior face-off specialist Tony Cruz and the Captains’ unit led SU 21-15 at the ‘x’ in the previous two match-ups this season. This time SU had the advantage in the game winning 18 of the 26.
Near the end of the third quarter, SU received two penalties served at the same time, forcing SU to be down two men at midfield to start the fourth quarter. Malamphy had to take a face-off with no wingers at his side, against three Captains.
Malamphy won the clamp and took off to give the ball to the Sea Gull veteran defense and continue the momentum and run in the game. The sharp play by many of the players stood out to Moroney who as a sophomore has learned from his veteran peers.
“You realize that if you don’t’ give it your all, not only are you letting yourself down, but you’re letting down the upperclassmen, the seniors,” Moroney said. “If you give up on a play, that could be the difference especially in a game like this when we’re trying to claw our ways back in it.”
At the end of the game, Berkman noted the ability of many players to step up during the big game, two of which were freshmen. Defensemen Noah Kness and Brad Apgar helped to fill the role of the now injured long-pole Kevin Murphy, playing key minutes in the major run of the game.
As Salisbury’s campaign continues, SU will host Dickinson College on Wednesday in the NCAA Quarterfinals. The winner of the game will move on to the National Semifinals, facing either Ohio Wesleyan University or Gettysburg College.
“This is a sign of a great team,” Reynolds said. “We were down 9-3 to a team we shouldn’t have been down 9-3 to. I don’t think ever in all my four years I have experienced a game like this with all the great teams we’ve had.”