Salisbury’s 11-9 win over Stevenson on Saturday offered a little clarity into its postseason picture. If the No. 3 Sea Gulls (16-1) can close out the regular season with no losses and a Capital Athletic Conference tournament championship, they likely will be the top seed in the South Region of the Division III tournament.
“Stevenson-Salisbury is always a big game to win,” senior attackman Luke Phipps (John Carroll) said. “We lost two [meetings] last year, so that was disappointing. Coming into this year, it’s [Nos.] 1 and 2 in the region, and it was very important to us to bring all of the playoff games back to Sea Gull Stadium. That’s big for us, and to move into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed is always huge. It gives you a good advantage.”
The No. 2 Mustangs (13-2) probably will fall in the next United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll and perhaps in the regional rankings, but coach Paul Cantabene said he is not worried about seeding.
“We’ve only lost one in-region game, and that’s to Salisbury,” he said of his Stevenson team, whose only other loss was a 15-14 overtime defeat to No. 1 Rochester Institute of Technology, which is in the North Region. “Our other loss is out of region. … I still think we’re in a great position. We’ve just got to go out and win our conference and let it go. We were the [No.] 4 seed last year for the NCAA tournament when we lost two games. We still have a lot to do. It’s not like our season is over because we lost to Salisbury.”
Circling back to “Three Things to Watch” …
1) Salisbury’s offense powers through. Stevenson entered the week ranked 29th in the country in defense (6.9 goals per game). The unit limited senior attackman Rhett DePol, the Sea Gulls’ leader in assists and points, to a single goal and no assists. But Salisbury was buoyed by the play of Phipps (two goals and four assists) and senior midfielder Donovan Lange (three goals and two assists), and Phipps said opponents and critics should begin taking the offense seriously.
“We’ve been hearing all season that we’re quite not good enough, that our offense isn’t good enough,” he said. “It doesn’t get to us, but it gives us a little more motivation. We’re a pretty good team and we’ve got good players all across the field. So we wanted to come in here and definitely win this game and play very well, and we did that, for the most part.”
2) Stevenson coughs up the ball. The Mustangs had averaged 17.4 turnovers per game, so their 14 giveaways against Salisbury might have seemed like a bonus. But nine of those gaffes occurred in the second half and five in a fourth quarter in which the Sea Gulls outscored Stevenson 3-1. Cantabene did not seem alarmed about the number of turnovers, but acknowledged that the players have to convert when they have those chances.
“We’ve got good sticks, we’ve got good kids, and I thought we did a good job not turning over the ball as much. But we’ve got to make plays when we’re in position to make plays,” he said. “We’ve got to coach our kids up a little bit better about that. I thought we were in position to make plays. We were right there, and we didn’t.”
3) Salisbury gains edge on faceoffs. Stevenson senior Brent Hiken entered Saturday having won 70.7 percent (162 of 229) of his faceoffs and having collected 111 ground balls. But he went 9-for-19 and picked up just six ground balls. Cantabene said Hiken played despite a badly bruised shoulder.
“We tried to get him to gut through it, but he couldn’t get enough strength in his top hand because he was so banged up,” Cantabene said. “We’re going to give him a break this week, and hopefully he can get better for our [Commonwealth Conference] tournament and everything. He was really not himself, and we asked him to gut through it.”
The Sea Gulls relied on senior Chris Biank, who had won 57.9 percent (95 of 164) of his draws and had led the team in ground balls with 52. He took all 22 faceoffs, won 13 and scooped up a game-high seven ground balls.
“Biank did a great job,” coach Jim Berkman said. “We know how good their kid is, and we wanted to neutralize him a little bit. … Another key was, we didn’t want to violate, and that definitely played to our favor. Chris did all of those things. So hat’s off to him.”