Washington College at Stevenson: Three things to watch

The two sides will meet for the fourth time with Washington College holding a slight 2-1 edge in this series. The two sides are 5-5 in their all-time series, but are meeting for only the second time since 2006. (Thanks to sports information director Phil Ticknor at Washington College for correcting the numbers.) Stevenson is 42-3 at Mustang Stadium since it opened for the 2012 season, while Washington College is 6-1 on the road this spring.

The Shoremen (17-1) have won 12 consecutive games since losing to Salisbury, 12-7, on March 19. They are making their first appearance in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA tournament since 2008. Senior goalkeeper Ted DiSalvo ranks 16th in Division III in save percentage (.620) and 21st in goals-against average (6.94).

The Mustangs (19-2) have won six straight contests games since dropping an 11-9 loss to Salisbury on April 19. They have advanced to their sixth consecutive NCAA quarterfinal. A man-up offense that ranks 12th in the nation at 43.6 percent (58-of-133) boasts four players with at least 10 goals each in extra-man situations, including a team-high 13 tallies from junior midfielder Colin Dabney.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

1) Washington College’s midfield. The Shoremen have shifted from an attack-driven offense to a midfield-oriented unit with four midfielders in the team’s top seven in goals and points and three midfielders leading the team in assists. Senior and Centennial Conference Offensive Player of the Year Hunter Nowicki (32 goals and 36 assists), sophomore Sid Looney (25, 11), and senior Kodie Englehart (10, 18) form a dangerous group that has caught Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene’s attention.

“We’ve got a good idea of what they’re about,” he said. “Being a midfield-driven team, it does change [our strategy] a little bit, but I think we’re pretty good in our midfield defense as well. We’ve got two great poles, and [junior short-stick defensive midfielder] Connor Curro and [sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder] Dylan Muti are playing really, really well. So we’re going to see how that goes. I know Nowicki is playing really well and has had a great year for them, but we’ve got good players, too. We’re going to see how it pans out and go from there. They like to shoot the ball a lot from the outside, and that’s fine with us.”

2) Washington College’s discipline. In the Shoremen’s 17-13 loss to Stevenson in the second round of the NCAA tournament on May 11, 2013, both teams combined for 26 penalties. But Washington College couldn’t control its emotions, and the Mustangs enjoyed 13 extra-man opportunities, scoring on four of them. The Shoremen have sent out their man-down defense just six times in two playoff games, and coach Jeff Shirk did not sound worried about his team’s self-restraint.

“We’ve stressed all year to play hard and get after guys, but make sure that we’re being smart about things,” he said. “… So it’s one of those things where we’re going to continue to do what we do, and we’re not going to worry about what’s called or what’s not called. Just make sure that we’re ready to play hard and fly around and take advantage of whatever opportunity arises.”

3) Faceoffs. This contest pits two of the top faceoff specialists in the country. Stevenson senior Brent Hiken ranks fourth at 71.6 percent (229-of-320) and has collected 163 ground balls, while Washington College junior Michael Trapp ranks seventh at 69.6 percent (240-of-345) and has picked up 157 ground balls. The key difference is that Trapp has scored 12 goals and dished six assists, while Hiken has posted just one goal and one assist. But Cantabene said he wouldn’t be shocked if the faceoff battle turned into a back-and-forth affair.

“If one guy can dominate the other, that would be a pretty big thing, but I doubt that’s going to happen,” he said. “They’re pretty good. I think each of them is going to get their own, and I think that’s why it’ll be more of a .500 situation. I think what’s going to be more important are the timely wins at the faceoff X, when a team needs a win here or there. It’s not how many faceoffs these guys win, but it’s going to come down to when they win their faceoffs.”

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