This may not qualify as good news for Washington College, the Rochester Institute of Technology or Tufts – three of the four teams left in the NCAA Division III tournament – but Salisbury’s suffocating defense has gotten stronger courtesy of the return of short-stick defensive midfielder Tim Stone.

The senior sat out the first 17 games of the season while battling a hip injury and returned for the first time to play in the team’s 12-6 victory over Frostburg State in a Capital Athletic Conference tournament semifinal on April 26. Adding Stone to pair with freshman Brendan Bromwell and back up sophomores Preston Dabbs and Davis Anderson gives the Sea Gulls (20-1) four solid short-stick defensive midfielders.

“Now we’re not leaving Preston and Davis out there for the whole game,” coach Jim Berkman said Thursday morning. “And then freshman Brendan Bromwell has now matured to the point that we have a lot of confidence in him. So now we have four short-stick D-middies who have allowed us to play a lot fresher on that end of the field.”

The defense was already a source of consistency for Salisbury. Only Lynchburg and Cabrini have scored 10 or more goals against the Sea Gulls, who have surrendered just 11 goals in two NCAA tournament games.

The defense held York to six goals below its season average of 12.0 in a 12-6 win in a second-round contest on Saturday and Denison to more than 11 goals below its season average of 16.6 in a 15-5 rout in a quarterfinal Wednesday night. Berkman said the key has been stocking the unit with defenders who don’t have to slide.

“We’ve got good guys that don’t have to be slid to all the time,” he said. “So that makes it tough for an offense when guys aren’t sliding all over to try to help cover the ball. We’ve got good individual defenders, and then when we do need to slide, we’re ready to go and we go hard. We’ve been pushing people to shoot to their off hands and pushing them to the alleys where [senior goalkeeper] Alex Taylor can make the saves. We’ve been doing that consistently throughout the year.”