No. 12 Washington College’s 7-6 come-from-behind win against No. 5 and reigning national champion Salisbury on Wednesday night may prove to be a psychological lift for a program that had dropped 12 straight contests to the Sea Gulls. Perhaps more immediately, the victory might propel to the Shoremen (11-2) to their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament regardless of how they fare in the Centennial Conference tournament.
With a 4-2 record in the league, Washington is currently third behind conference leaders Dickinson (12-0 overall and 5-0 in the Centennial) and Franklin & Marshall (9-3, 5-0). The team will meet Gettysburg (7-5, 3-2) this Saturday and could cement the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament with a win.
The Shoremen have now defeated Salisbury and No. 9 Washington and Lee and might have enhanced their resume enough to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament even if they don’t win the conference tournament and the accompanying automatic qualifier. But coach Jeff Shirk said he hasn’t given that scenario much thought.
“To be very honest and this might sound like a coach’s remark here, I’m completely thinking about Gettysburg because to me, the Centennial is more important to me than the NCAA at this point in time,” he said Thursday morning. “We want the Centennial back. Gettysburg is another team – just like Salisbury – that our senior class has never beat in their time here. So it’s one of those things where there is no bigger game than Saturday for Centennial [tournament] seeding, for our psyche and to keep this thing rolling and to prove to the guys that they do belong. From an NCAA standpoint, at least in my mind, I fully expect us to make the NCAA tournament, but our focus is completely on the Centennial right now.”
While admitting that it can be difficult to avoid thinking about the team’s fate beyond the Centennial Conference tournament, Shirk said it’s simple to reinforce thinking about the present rather than the future.
“I think it’s about reminding our guys and myself that we have to take this thing day by day,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s one of those things to where the conference is the most important thing to us, and the NCAA [tournament] is the icing on the cake where hopefully, we will reach our goal of competing for the conference championship. The nice thing is I think our boys are really hungry to compete for that conference championship after the Dickinson loss and the F&M loss and with Gettysburg coming up this weekend. I think it’s easier than one might think to keep them focused because our seniors have the right attitude and right outlook in that you have to take everything in stride and that if you look ahead, you’re going to miss out.”