Individually, Pierre Armstrong is known as “Parms,” Josh Melton as “Melt” and Griffin Moroney as “Griff.” Collectively, though, the trio of sophomores who form the starting attack for the Salisbury men’s lacrosse team is nicknamed “The Rat Attack.”
As Melton explained, freshmen are called rats by the upperclassmen. And because Armstrong, Melton and Moroney played as a second attack unit as freshmen last year, someone coined the name “The Rat Attack.”
Rather than try to ditch the nickname, the threesome has grown fond of it.
“In the scheme of things, we’re not three kids that are definitely going to be All-Americans that can just roll the ball out and get after it,” Moroney said. “It’s going to take a lot of work and getting down and dirty a little bit like the rats would. So I think it’s just something we’ve embraced a little bit to just keep getting better and keep grinding every day.”
Said Melton: “We love it. We embrace it. Even though we’re sophomores now, we still like to go by it.”
Whatever name they go by, Armstrong, Melton and Moroney have played crucial roles in the Sea Gulls (20-3) getting a shot at their third consecutive NCAA Division III championship and 13th overall against Wesleyan (18-3) in Sunday’s tournament final at 1 p.m. in Foxborough, Mass.
Armstrong leads the team in assists (36) and ranks second in points (60), Moroney ranks second in goals (46) and is tied for third in points (57), and Melton ranks second in assists (34) and is tied with Moroney in points.
Their emergence has been pivotal for a program that graduated all three starting attackmen from last year’s championship squad. Nathan Blondino amassed 61 goals and 73 assists en route to being named the nation’s Player of the Year, Carson Kalama racked up 69 goals and 19 assists as a second-team All-American, and Nick Garbarino compiled 68 goals and 20 assists as an All-American honorable mention .
Expectations were high when the starting jobs were awarded to Armstrong, Melton and Moroney.
“Would you want to be a sophomore that never played and – coming into the legacy of Sea Gulls lacrosse – have to keep it going?” Salisbury coach Jim Berkman said. “There was definitely some pressure on those guys. But they responded to that pressure and used it as motivation and have definitely answered the bell and have gotten better every week as the season has gone on.”
The transition began rather shakily for the trio. Melton missed the season opener and went without a point in his first two games after returning from back-to-back bouts with tonsillitis and the flu. Armstrong was limited to one point each in the team’s one-goal losses at Gettysburg and Ohio Wesleyan, and Moroney scored only once against Ohio Wesleyan.
“Those were some big shoes to fill,” Moroney said. “They’ve been All-Americans for a couple years. … At the beginning of the year, it was a little rough and took a little while to get going, but as the season has gone on, we’ve gained a lot more confidence.”
The turning point for the threesome was a 14-3 thumping of Christopher Newport in the Capital Athletic Conference tournament semifinals May 1. Melton had four goals and two assists, Armstrong added two goals and three assists, and Moroney scored once against a defense that had surrendered only two goals and one assist to the attack in the teams’ first meeting April 4.
Melton said the attack’s development has been aided by matching up in practice against the No. 23 defense headed by senior defensemen Kyle Tucker and Will Nowesnick.
“It’s a huge help when you’re playing against the best defense in the country every day, and they’re forcing you to get better and putting you in uncomfortable situations and stuff,” he said. “I think that contributed almost more than anything else to us getting better and really growing as a unit.”
Wesleyan coach John Raba, whose defense’s unique 3-3 zone will be tasked with quieting the Sea Gulls, said he is not surprised Berkman found productive players on attack.
“Regardless of the year, you can put any attackman in Salisbury’s unit, and they’re going to be a good player because Coach, he gets them ready,” he said. “With the system he has in place and the way he runs the program, they’re always going to be ready to go.”
Armstrong, Melton and Moroney are a close bunch, spending an estimated 75 percent of their time together away from field. If they’re not dining at Chipotle, they’re lounging at their apartments (Melton and Moroney live together, while Armstrong is 30 seconds away) introducing Moroney to films like “The Sandlot.”
The trio understands they must be effective to increase the Sea Gulls’ chances of defeating Wesleyan on Sunday. It’s a challenge they welcome.
“It’s pressure to play on the big stage, but what we emphasize here is, it’s just another game,” Melton said. “Obviously, it’s our last game of the year and it’s for all the marbles, but it’s just another game. If we can go out there and execute our offense and have fun, I’m not worried, and I think the offense will have a field day.”