COLLEGE PARK - Middlebury overcame an early first-quarter deficit to beat top-ranked Salisbury State, 16-12, yesterday and win its first Division III men's lacrosse championship.
Middlebury rode a five-goal first-half performance from Most Outstanding Player David Seeley to win in front of 17,431 at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium.
Middlebury's victory avenges a 13-6 loss to the Sea Gulls (17-2) in last season's championship game.
The Vermont-based team becomes the first school outside of Maryland or New York to win the Division III championship. The Panthers are the fifth school to take the title.
"It was great to face them [Salisbury] again; it made us want it a little more," Middlebury senior goalkeeper Dave Campbell said. "They came out and played a great game just like they did last year but we weren't as intimidated."
The fifth-ranked Panthers (15-1) made their move in the second quarter with a 6-1 run over an eight-minute span that gave them the lead for good at 10-7.
The Panthers started the run by scoring twice within 10 seconds. Later, they netted two more goals 16 seconds apart, with Seeley capping it on a rocket shot past John Dodson.
Middlebury controlled the tempo in the decisive second quarter, winning 25 ground balls to Salisbury's 16 and nine of 14 faceoffs. The Panthers also held a 15-11 shot advantage in the second quarter, the only period in which they outshot the Sea Gulls.
"Our No. 1 priority throughout the week was groundball play," Salisbury coach Jim Berkman said. " We thought the winner of this game would be the winner of the groundball [battle]. That was the difference today."
The Panthers' veteran defensive unit took care of the rest, holding the explosive Sea Gulls offense in check. Junior defenseman Brian Nickel shut down Salisbury's top attackman, Joe High (Dulaney), who had no points and two shots on goal.
"Brian, being our third defenseman, plays the crease guy," Middlebury coach Erin Quinn said. "We told him today that, 'You are not sliding. You are on the crease. You don't have a back-up role. You are on High and that's it'"
Salisbury cut the Middlebury lead to 12-10 late in the third quarter on freshman Ryan Fisher's (Westminster) second goal as he backed up Panthers defenseman Matt Dunn on the left side of the crease.
Middlebury answered by scoring three of the final four goals. Sophomore Zach Hebert capped it when he scored with a low shot past the Sea Gulls' second-half goalkeeper, Pat Tewes (Severna Park), at the 3:17 mark.
"This was just a moment in time that we came up a little bit short," Berkman said. "But, a 17-2 season, playing in the national championship and coming in second is not so bad.
"Granted, our goal is to be champions, but on this day it wasn't meant to be."