This is the first-ever meeting between these teams. Birmingham-Southern (14-4) has won seven of its last eight contests, including upending Colorado College, 8-5, for the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament crown and earning the automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament. The only two losses Stevenson (15-4) has absorbed in the last 12 games have been to No. 1 seed Salisbury. Here are a few factors that could influence this NCAA tournament first-round contest at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills Wednesday night.
1) Birmingham-Southern’s Eric Klein. The Panthers rank second in Division III in offense, averaging 16.2 goals per game this season. Much of their success has to do with the presence of freshman attackman Eric Klein, who has scored 61 goals and ranks fifth in the nation in goals per game (3.4). Klein’s prowess has impressed Stevenson coach Paul Cantabane. “He’s scoring a lot of goals for them,” he said of Klein. “If you’ve got a guy that can score that many goals, obviously, you have some talent. He’s somebody that’s going to get a lot of our attention as we find out more and get some film on him. We’ll find out more about what they’re all about and what they can do.”
2) Stevenson’s faceoffs. The Mustangs are hovering slightly above the 50 percent mark on faceoffs, winning 51.5 percent (194-of-377). On paper, it would appear that they could face a stiff test in Birmingham-Southern, which boasts a 57.2 success rate (270-of-472) on draws. But the Panthers have won just 44.0 percent (40-of-91) of their faceoffs in their four losses. “We haven’t faced off that great this year,” Cantabene conceded. “So it’s going to be a big key. But I think the competition we’ve faced hopefully helps our guys. We’ve faced some of the best guys in the country, and I think that helps our guys. We need to toughen up and be strong up the middle, so we need our guys to understand that every faceoff is going to be important. Hopefully, we can get more possessions and really grind them.”
3) Birmingham-Southern’s ball protection. As prolific as the Panthers are on offense, they’re also quite susceptible to coughing up the ball. They have committed 394 turnovers this season, averaging 21.9 giveaways per game. That’s a somewhat alarming rate and a trend that Stevenson will surely take advantage of if those troubles continue Wednesday night. “That’s a lot of turnovers in the course of a year,” Cantabene acknowledged. “Hopefully, that continues, but that’s something that I’m sure their coach is going to talk to them about. It’s a good thing for us that we only turned the ball over 10 times when we played Ohio Wesleyan this weekend. We’re doing a much better job, and they’re going to want to hold onto the ball as well.”