Postscript from Tufts vs. Salisbury in men's lacrosse

The 2014 season ended with mixed results for Salisbury’s senior class.

That group leaves the Sea Gulls with a four-year record of 82-9 and national championships in 2011 and 2012. But a bid for a third crown ended with a 12-9 loss to Tufts in Sunday’s NCAA tournament final at M&T; Bank Stadium.

Salisbury coach Jim Berkman expressed his thanks to the senior class after Sunday's loss.

“Those guys all kind of refocused our group after last year [when the team lost to Stevenson in the semifinals], and we just had a great run," Berkman said. "I can honestly say this was one of my most enjoyable years coaching ever in terms of the kids, their response, their effort, their commitment. It’s been a great year.”

Still, the bar is set so high at Salisbury, which has not gone three consecutive seasons without capturing a national championship since a three-year drought from 2000-02. This year’s junior class could feel a certain amount of heat when the 2015 season begins.

Circling back to “Three Things to Watch” …  

1) Tufts’ offense takes patient approach. After a first quarter in which the unit scored just once, the Jumbos (21-2) looked lethargic and out of sorts. But an offense that led Division III at 18.7 goals per game did not panic and began to use two-man games behind the cage and on the crease to attack Salisbury (21-2). And Tufts did it without injured junior attackman Chris Schoenhut, who had led the country with 80 goals.

“We have a system, we believe in it,” Jumbos coach Mike Daly said. “We’re going to play how we play. Again, we’ve just got really tough kids that we challenge every day, and if they were going to get timers on and they were going to take their time on offense, we were going to need to get our stops, and we just needed to take care of the ball and take advantage of our opportunities.”

2) Salisbury’s defense stumbles. The Sea Gulls entered the nation ranked eighth after surrendering just 6.3 goals per game, and only two opponents had reached the double-digit mark against Salisbury. But Tufts scored a season-high against the Sea Gulls due to some uncharacteristic breakdowns, according to Salisbury coach Jim Berkman.

“There were a couple things that we just made mistakes on,” he said. “Behind the net, we were switching on every pick, and twice, we didn't switch, and they scored goals. We were supposed to switch on all picks on the crease. Twice, we had two guys go to the pick, and both times they scored on the back side. We worked all week on that, and we made four mistakes, and to Tufts’ credit, that was four goals on things that [were] in the game plan on that run.”

3) Salisbury’s shooters lose accuracy. The Sea Gulls had converted 32.1 percent (301-of-937) of their shots this season, but slipped to 18.4 percent (9-of-49) against Tufts. Senior goalkeeper Patton Watkins made a game-high 17 saves, but particularly galling to Berkman was that although Salisbury outshot the Jumbos, 49-37, the offense settled for the types of attempts that were encouraged by Tufts’ defensive game plan.

“As I was telling them throughout the game, ‘Tufts is playing to give you the 15-yard shot. Tufts is playing to give you the no-angle shot down the alley, and right now, you’re accepting that,’” Berkman said. “I thought there were several times that we could have hitched and got to 11 yards, which would have been a Salisbury shot. I thought there were times we went down the alley and shot it, and we should have stopped on a dime and rolled back and shot it, which is a Salisbury shot. Even though we shot it 49 times, I think our shot selection in the end was probably what came back to haunt us today.”

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