It’s practically impossible to surprise Salisbury coach Jim Berkman. But when informed Friday morning that the program has won 39 consecutive games at Sea Gull Stadium in the NCAA Division III tournament, he replied, “That’s a stat I didn’t know anything about.”
The Sea Gulls (20-1), top seed in the North Region, will try to extend that streak with a victory over Denison (18-1) on Sunday at 1 p.m. in a semifinal. They have played host to the postseason in three of the last four years, which has been the team’s aim every season.
“Sea Gull Stadium is definitely a place where we’ve had a lot of success, and that’s why we work so hard in the regular season to hopefully put ourselves in a position to playing these games that are so important at home,” said Berkman, who became the first lacrosse coach at any NCAA level to win 500 games after Wednesday’s 17-5 rout of Cabrini in the quarterfinals. “Especially at this time of the year when you’re in the middle of finals and everybody’s trying to wrap up everything, going on the road is difficult scenario. It’s really a whole lot easier and beneficial to be playing in your home environment.”
While Berkman, the coaches, and players may not keep track of the home winning streak, Berkman said the team is energized when playing at Sea Gull Stadium.
“There is an advantage to playing at home,” he said. “You’re in a friendlier environment, you’ve got more people cheering you on for every play. Maybe you get a little bit more energy. Maybe you work a little harder on the ground balls. Playing at home is a tremendous advantage, especially in our environment where we do have the bigger crowds, the more vocal environment than most lacrosse environments.”
The last opponent to defeat Salisbury on its home turf in the NCAA tournament? That would be Denison, with an 11-6 win on May 12, 2001 in a second-round contest. But overall, the Sea Gulls own a 21-3 record against the Big Red including a 5-1 mark in the postseason.
Asked if that history could play into a psychological advantage for Salisbury, Berkman said, “Well, if it does, we’ll definitely take it. But I think it’s Sunday, it’s one game, and we’ve got to be at our best. They’ve had a great season. They’re a solid opponent at all positions – as anybody is at this point. We’re down to the final four teams and they’re all very good teams with good coaches. You can’t beat yourself, and you’ve got to execute.”