Despite loss, Salisbury defied doubters en route to final four appearance

This was supposed to be the year that Salisbury fell from the top of the Division III mountain – hard. After graduation had sapped the team of six starters, two more 20-goal scorers and two short-stick defensive midfielders, the team limped to a 1-2 start and suffered its first losing streak since 2009 and dropped below .500 for the first time since 1989.

The Sea Gulls rebounded with nine consecutive wins, but was stunned, 7-6, by Washington College on April 17 in their final contest before the Capital Athletic Conference tournament and then upended, 13-11, by St. Mary’s in the conference tournament final.

Despite five losses in the regular season, Salisbury – ranked 12th in the most recent United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association – appeared to get the last at-large berth in the NCAA tournament and rewarded the selection committee with upsets of No. 8 Washington and Lee in the second round and No. 2 Dickinson in the quarterfinals.

Making their 10th trip to the Final Four in the last 11 years, the Sea Gulls’ run ended in Sunday night’s 12-6 loss to No. 4 Stevenson in a semifinal, but it allowed coach Jim Berkman a moment to sit back and contemplate what the team had accomplished.

“We’ve had a nice run at the end of the season once we settled in and knew what our attack was,” he said. “[Freshman] Brady [Dashiell] was playing middie for quite a while, and then we kind of settled in that he was going to be our left-handed attackman, and [sophomore] Jesse Rabishaw had a couple big games on the crease when he hadn’t played at all for 14 games. They started to come together a little bit and really gave us some opportunities to win some tough games on the road in the playoffs against higher seeded teams. But I thought our D-middies really came along, two freshmen [Preston Dabbs and Davis Anderson] that allowed us to play some great individual defense. There are some young guys that definitely got their feet wet and got some good experience that is really going to pay dividends in the future.”

Salisbury loses just six players to graduation. Three are starters in midfielder Eric Kluge (39 goals and 21 assists), defenseman Brett Baer (three goals, four assists, 47 ground balls and 25 caused turnovers) and faceoff specialist Tyler Granelli (two goals, one assist, 152 ground balls and a 63.3 win percentage on 228-of-360) and two others are substantial contributors in attackman Stephen Norris (20, 1) and Evan Hammersly (11, 4).

But senior midfielder Ryan Clarke (8, 5) will return for a final year of eligibility after suffering a ruptured spleen in the fifth game of the season, and Berkman was optimistic about the potential of the returning players.

“I was proud of the way they hung in there,” he said. “They kept getting better at practice. Everybody on our team talks about where we’ve been the last two weeks, and if you look at our practices and where we were in February, it’s amazing how much improvement on offense that has occurred.”

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