The major difference between Division III powers Salisbury and Stevenson is that the Sea Gulls know how to finish and win big games.
Sea Gulls senior attackman Matt Cannone scored cutting across the crease on a over the shoulder feed from junior midfielder Ryan Clarke with 11.7 seconds remaining in the game to give top-ranked Salisbury an 11-10 victory over No. 4 Stevenson on Saturday night.
It was a tense and extremely competitive night at Mustangs Stadium, and the crowd of nearly 2,000 watched as Salisbury scored the game's final three goals in the last 3:17 .
Cannone pulled the Sea Gulls (15-0 overall, 7-0 Capital Athletic Association) within 10-9 on a goal with 3:17 left, and Salisbury senior attackman Tony Mendes tied the game at 10-10 when he blew by junior defender Kyle Holechek near the right of the crease 12 seconds later.
Those kinds of plays, combined with Cannone's game winner, made the difference as Salisbury came up with big play after big play, and Stevenson couldn't deliver.
Before Cannone's game winner, the Mustangs (12-3, 6-1) turned the ball over twice on their offensive end. They had a six-goal lead late in the third quarterand couldn't hold that either.
Salisbury was only one of seven on extra-man opportunities, but Stevenson was worse connecting on just two of ten. Stevenson had 18 turnovers, six in the fourth quarter.
"There isn't a whole lot of difference between the two teams," said Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene. "We may approach the game a little differently but if we played the game 10 times you wouldn't be able to predict the outcome. They made the plays at the end and we didn't, and that might be the difference between the two clubs. They have more senior leadership than we do."
"But we'll learn from this and move on," said Cantabene. "Late in the game, I wished we could have held onto the ball and settled things down. But I didn't have any timeouts left, but again, we'll learn from this."
Salisbury was called for three penalties in the first quarter for two minutes, but Stevenson couldn't capitalize and barely got off three shots in those situations.
The closest the Mustangs came to scoring was when freshman attackman Stephen Banick piped a shot with 5:39 left in the first period.
Salisbury scored the only goal of the quarter when Mendes, operating from behind goal, drove to the right and scored on a shot that hugged the inside pipe past goalie Ian Bolland.
But the second period belonged to Stevenson. The Mustangs had four more extra-man opportunities, and capitalized on one of those when sophomore midfielder Chris Dashiell scored with 11:13 left in the half.
Junior attackman Tyler Reid scored on an over the shoulder shot from just outside the crease on a feed from Banick with 6:54 remaining to push Stevenson's lead to 2-1.
Dashiell completed a fast break with a goal with 4:53 left in the half and senior midfielder Nick Rossi, after bouncing around two Salisbury midfielders, scored nearly two minutes later as Stevenson went into the halftime with a 4-1 lead.
Besides the score, Stevenson had one major advantage in only one other category collecting 17 groundballs to 11 for Salisbury.
The Sea Gulls climbed back into the game early in the third quarter on goals by Cannone and midfielder Sam Bradman in the first four minutes, but Stevenson scored the next five straight goals for a 9-3 lead with 52 seconds remaining in the quarter.
But Stevenson got carried away with emotion. In the last 2:25 of the period, the Mustangs got called for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and two pushing penalties which led to two Salisbury goals in the final 45 seconds of the quarter.
"Those were some interesting calls," said Cantabene. "After they scored, they lifted their hands up and did things in front of our bench, and the only thing our guy does is lift up his palms to our crowd to get them going, and we get an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Everybody does that.
"Then both teams head to the sideline and the next thing I see is Bradman is on the ground from incidental contact, and we get another penalty. The kid they called it on wouldn't hurt a fly."