Since 2006, Salisbury owns a 12-7 advantage in this series and has won four of the last five meetings at Stevenson. The Sea Gulls are 3-0 on the road this season, while the Mustangs are seeking their first win at home in three attempts.
No. 2 Salisbury improved to 5-0 after edging No. 9 Ohio Wesleyan, 13-12, in overtime on Sunday. The offense ranks 28th in Division III in scoring after averaging 14.4 goals. Three of the unit's top five scorers are midfielders in seniors Thomas Cirillo (12 goals and 14 assists) and James Burton (6G, 11A) and junior Brendan Bromwell (6G, 4A).
No. 19 Stevenson fell to 1-2 after losing to Western New England, 9-8, on Saturday. Despite the team's struggles, the offense is tied for 19th at 15.7 goals per game. Three of the unit's top five producers are attackmen in junior and Salisbury transfer Wade Korvin (4G, 4A) and seniors Matt Tompkins (6G) and Pat Candon (4G, 1A).
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
1) Stevenson's slow starts. Both of the Mustangs' losses have been marked by lethargic beginnings. They dug into a 9-1 hole after the first quarter and a 13-6 halftime deficit against No. 3 Rochester Institute of Technology. And they trailed Western New England 3-2 after the first period and 4-2 at halftime. Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene said starting strong has been a point of emphasis.
"We've got to be able to handle the starts of games better," he said. "There's no doubt that we're concerned about that. I think our guys are too excited and too amped up and make mistakes. We've got to be able to get into the game and relax and play our game and make the plays we know we can make. We made a lot of mistakes in the first quarter because I think we were way too amped up for the game. We've got to be ready to go."
2) Salisbury's goaltending. The Sea Gulls are undefeated despite some very shaky play in the cage. Sophomore Joshua Dean has a 4-0 record, but was pulled at halftime against Ohio Wesleyan after making just one save and giving up seven goals. Sophomore Anthony Stavrakis stopped two shots, but after he surrendered four goals, Dean (Pallotti) was re-inserted into the game. Coach Jim Berkman praised the players for being resilient despite the absence of solid goalkeeping.
"I've got to give our guys credit because when you beat a team that badly – by 16 shots and 19 ground balls and you win the faceoff battle the way that we did – but we're in a one-goal game because of the saves and they're getting goals by shooting from the top of the box, it can be really frustrating to your team," he said. "We obviously have to get better goalie play if we're going to be successful, and because of that, a game that you should be winning by four or five turns into a one-goal game, but we found a way to win."
3) Stevenson's ground balls. Salisbury has collected an average of 30.2 ground balls thus far, which might seem on the low end. But the Sea Gulls have been efficient with the ball, which was noted by Cantabene. Even though the Mustangs are tied for ninth in the nation at 46.0 ground balls per game, their 15-ground ball deficit in the loss to RIT still haunts Cantabene.
"We've got to be good on ground balls," he said. "We can't get out-ground balled like we did against RIT. We've got to be able to do a great job of winning the ground ball, and we've got to be able to ride them well to create second possessions because we know when they get the ball, they're going to hold onto it for two or three minutes and be very methodical. So we've got to create more second chances."