Salisbury's 15-11 victory over No. 2 Cabrini on Friday night was an encouraging response for a team that was just nine days removed from a stunning 9-8 overtime loss to Capital Athletic Conference foe Christopher Newport. The win also means that the Sea Gulls have a legitimate shot at claiming the top seed in the South Region when the NCAA Division III tournament begins May 7.
Salisbury (14-1 overall and 5-1 in the league) – which figures to improve from its No. 5 ranking when the latest United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll is released on Monday afternoon – has three victories over teams in the top 10 in Cabrini, No. 6 Washington College and No. 10 Lynchburg. No. 3 Stevenson (12-1) has just as many top 10 wins after defeating No. 7 SUNY-Cortland, No. 9 Tufts and Lynchburg.
But according to Laxpower.com, the Sea Gulls have the best RPI in the country and the No. 22-rated strength of schedule. The reigning national champion Mustangs have an RPI of four and a strength of schedule of 24.
So Salisbury coach Jim Berkman is fully aware of how crucial Friday's victory over Cabrini was for the program's hopes of grabbing the top seed in the South Region and home-field advantage until the NCAA title game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on May 25.
"It was definitely a good win," he said Monday morning. "… It definitely helps us in the playoff standings and the playoff seedings and home-field [advantage] and all of that kind of stuff. It was good to see us play two of our best games of the year against two very good teams in Washington and Cabrini. We play well on the big stage, and hopefully, that's a sign of the future."
While the Sea Gulls and Stevenson jockey for position, one wrinkle could be the presence of No. 4 Denison, which is undefeated at 13-0. The Big Red have a RPI of five and a strength of schedule of 51, but Berkman said the absence of a loss could sway the NCAA selection committee.
In any event, Salisbury could take some of the guesswork out of the equation by defeating the Mustangs on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Mustang Stadium on Owings Mills, but Berkman said the team must focus its attention on Wednesday's CAC game at Marymount (8-4, 1-3).
"We've got to take care of Marymount on Wednesday because Wednesday gives us the No. 1 seed in the conference playoffs and they always kind of play well at home," he said. "So we've got to take care of that. And obviously as it has been in the last few years, the game with Stevenson has had a bearing on seeding and home-field advantage in the playoffs."