Lynchburg at Stevenson: Three things to watch

Since 2006, these teams have met on an annual basis, and No. 8 Lynchburg owns a slight 4-3 advantage in the series. The Hornets (8-1) have won their last four contests since getting edged, 12-11, by No. 13 Gettysburg on March 9. The offense has been paced by freshman attackman Austin Stewart, who has recorded 20 goals and two assists. No. 5 Stevenson has bounced back from a 7-6 loss to No. 6 Tufts on March 19 with back-to-back routs of Hood and Lebanon Valley. Junior attackman Chris Dashiell (12 goals and 21 assists) paces an offense that entered the week ranked 11th in Division III in scoring (14.1 goals per game). Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills on Saturday night.

1) Taking advantage of Joe Lisicky’s absence. Lynchburg finished last season ranked 12th in defense, allowing just 6.2 goals per game. One significant reason was the play of defenseman Joe Lisicky, who scooped up 89 ground balls, forced 41 turnovers, and scored five goals. The senior missed the first two games of the season reportedly because of a foot injury, made one start, and has since sat out the team’s last six contests. If Lisicky – who registered seven ground balls and four caused turnovers in the victory over Stevenson last year – can’t play, the Mustangs would be wise to take advantage of his absence, right? “They have some tough guys, and some of those defensemen are really good,” Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene said. “We recruited some of those kids and lost out to Lynchburg, and they’re good players. Joe is definitely a difference-maker because he’s not only good on the ball, but he’s also good at clearing the ball and making things happen in transition for them. So they may be a little different that way, but I still think they play a great team concept with or without Joe.”

2) Thwarting Lynchburg’s open looks. The Hornets have scored an average of 13.1 goals thus far, and one of the offense’s strengths has been its shooting percentage. The unit is among the national leaders in shooting percentage (31.5 percent), and five players have scored at least 10 goals. The Mustangs are tied with Lynchburg for 24th in the nation in defense (6.5 goals), but it will be up to junior defenseman Kyle Holechek (26 ground balls and nine caused turnovers) and sophomore defenseman Callum Robinson (25, 16) to tie up the Hornets shooters. “We know these guys pretty well. So we’ve got to take away that part,” Cantabene said. “I think we do a good job of getting on guys’ hands and staying on them and making their shots a little bit tougher. But they’ve done a good job of hitting their shots when they’re open. That’s what good teams do. We think our goalie [freshman Dimitri Pecunes] is playing pretty well now. So hopefully, we can limit their opportunities.”

3) Protecting the ball. Both Stevenson and Lynchburg are among the national leaders in caused turnovers per game this season. The Mustangs are forcing an average of 12.9 goals (which ranks 16th in Division III), while the Hornets are causing 11.1 takeaways per game. Cantabene said creating loose-ball opportunities will be an objective. “Anytime you can put pressure on guys carrying the ball and make them uncomfortable, that causes turnovers, and I think that’s what both teams do a good job of,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a big part of the game. Whoever makes the turnovers in the middle of the field and gives the other team easy opportunities is going to be the team that loses. If you turn it over in your offensive zone, that’s not as big. But if you turn it over in the middle of the field and give the other team fives-on-fours or fours-on-threes in broken situations, then it’s a whole lot different. We’ve done a good job all year of getting those types of turnovers, and I hope that continues. But the key is where you turn the ball over. It’s going to be interesting in this game to see where that happens.”

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