Sunday’s NCAA Division III tournament final at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia will be the biggest stage for No. 4 Stevenson and No. 3 Rochester Institute of Technology as both programs will make their first appearance in a national title game.
To get there, both teams had to get through their greatest enemies. The Mustangs (21-2) waylaid No. 12 Salisbury, 12-6, handing the reigning national champion its worst loss since an 11-5 setback to SUNY-Cortland on March 16, 2002.
It was Stevenson’s first victory over the Sea Gulls in three tournament semifinals, and coach Paul Cantabene conceded that there was something meaningful to last Sunday’s victory.
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“It’s always nice to do that,” he said. “I always say that if you want to be the champ, you’ve got to beat the champ. In this case, we were able to beat the defending champs and move on to get to the biggest game. So it’s good. We’ve played those guys a lot over the years, and it’s led to a lot of disappointment for us. We’ve lost a lot of big games to them, a lot of conference championships, and a chance to go to the final game. So any time you lose to a team in such big games, it’s always nicer to beat them to get to the next round. So for our guys and having that constant disappointment in the past, it’s extra special to beat them to go to the national championship.”
RIT has a similar nemesis in Cortland, which had beaten the Tigers in five previous Final Four appearances. But RIT (19-2) turned the tables last Sunday, securing a 10-9 overtime decision and tagging the Dragons with their first loss of the season.
“We’ve played Cortland for the past five years and it’s been a one-goal game all but one time,” coach Jake Coon said. “So it’s been a battle with them every single time out, and we’ve only come away with one victory besides this one. So yeah, I think for our program and for our guys that are here – especially the seniors – it certainly was a sweet win for us.”