The Salisbury women's lacrosse team fell one game short of a perfect season, losing to Trinity (Conn.), 8-7, in the NCAA Division III championship game Sunday afternoon in Montclair, N.J.
In addition to seeking the school's second national title, the Sea Gulls were trying to become the first team in the program's 40-year history to finish a season undefeated.
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Still, the Sea Gulls battled back to take the lead before Trinity rallied.
“We struggled in the first half, but the team came back,” Salisbury coach Jim Nestor said. “Trinity is a tough team, but I'm proud of the way we battled back.”
Trinity (21-1) attempted to control time of possession, not allowing the Sea Gulls' attack to get into rhythm — a strategy the Sea Gulls had encountered in the previous few games.
“Things didn't open up on the offensive end for us in the first half, and when they did, Trinity closed things up quickly,” Nestor said.
Kaitlin Hildebrand gave the Bantams the lead with an unassisted goal 12 minutes into the contest. Before that, Trinity had kept the ball in its offensive third of the field, content to pass it around and be patient. An opportunity opened up for Hildebrand to score when sophomore goalkeeper Ashton Wheatley came out of the cage trying to intercept a pass and the goal was left unattended.
Trinity scored again 7:13 later on a free-position shot that Wheatley seemed to stop before the ball squirted over the goal line. After Trinity goals with 7:12 and 4:55 left in the first half, Salisbury found itself facing its biggest deficit of the year at 4-0 — only the second time all season that the Sea Gulls had trailed at halftime.
The championship game was a contest of scoring runs, and Salisbury started its major run at the outset of the second half. Senior Alyssa Fowler (Arundel) got the Sea Gulls onto the board 48 seconds in on an unassisted goal, and freshman Bethany Baer scored the first of her team-high three goals with 22:06 left. Less than a minute later, junior Lauren Feusahrens (St. Mary's Ryken) netted her first goal of the game and she scored again two minutes later to tie it at 4.
With momentum on their side, the Sea Gulls were able to take their only lead of the game with 17:11 remaining in the game on a goal by senior Amanda Holsclaw (Edgewood). The lead was short-lived, however, as Hildebrand scored the second of her team-high three goals. That was the first goal of a 4-0 Bantams run that gave them an 8-5 lead with 9:40 remaining.
Baer scored two more goals down the stretch, and the Sea Gulls had a last chance from 50 yards out after Feusahrens was fouled with three seconds left on the game clock. The Trinity goalie was away from the net when the foul was committed, so Feusahrens had an open net in front of her.
Her desperation heave fell short, and Trinity claimed its first national championship.