The Salisbury men's lacrosse team has a defense that doesn't get as much attention — or respect — as the offense.
That might change after sophomore goalkeeper Alex Taylor made a game-high 19 saves and the defense limited visiting Stevenson to its lowest output in eight years in a 7-2 victory in an NCAA tournament semifinal before an announced 500 at Sea Gull Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The reigning national champion Sea Gulls (22-0) will seek their 10th title when they meet SUNY Cortland in Sunday's title game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The Red Dragons (21-0) defeated Tufts, 12-10, in the other semifinal.
Senior midfielder Sam Bradman paced Salisbury with a game-high three points on two goals and one assist, but the headliner was Taylor.
The Woodbine native and Glenelg graduate made seven saves apiece in the second and third quarters as the Mustangs took 14 and 12 shots, respectively. Taylor stopped Stevenson sophomore long-stick midfielder Ryan Rubenstein during a fastbreak in the second quarter and stoned senior midfielder Andrew McCrumb on the doorstep in the third period.
At one point with 7:53 left in the second quarter, Taylor had to leave the game after getting hit in the groin with a shot by Mustangs senior midfielder Justin Lea curling around the left post. Sophomore Mitch Meredith replaced Taylor, but he returned 42 seconds later.
"With the offense we have, I never go out there feeling like I have to win the game because I know our offense can put up a crazy amount of numbers," Taylor said. "But I made those first couple saves and got into a little rhythm. It was fun going against [Stevenson senior] Ian [Bolland] because Ian was making great saves. Having two goalies make great saves, it was fun as a goalie."
Indeed, Bolland was a major reason why Salisbury went scoreless in the first quarter — only the third time that has happened this season — but senior attackman Lantz Carter broke the seal with 3:46 left in the second quarter when he raced down the left alley, dipped under a stick check and slung it past Bolland.
The Sea Gulls opened the third period with three unanswered goals — including two from senior midfielder Cory Nowak — and the Mustangs could not conjure enough offense to keep pace.
That Stevenson's goals came from junior defenseman Kyle Holechek and freshman attackman Michael Crowe demonstrated the effort by the Sea Gulls' starting defense. The Mustangs' starting offense of attackmen Stephen Banick, Chris Dashiell and Tyler Reid and midfielders Lea, Nick Rossi and Kenny Whittaker went 0-for-26 and committed 11 of the team's 22 turnovers.
"We just played the defense we practice every day," said Salisbury senior defenseman Andrew Sellers, who finished with five ground balls and two caused turnovers. "It's a physical defense, taking away their strong hand. With all of our poles and all of our D-middies, they put them in a position not to score the whole time. Unfortunately, we did give up two goals from a pole and a reserve attackman. Other than that, we just knew how their guys were going to dodge, what hand they were. We read the scouting report over and over. So we were very prepared before the game even started."
Stevenson lost in the semifinal round for the third time in the past four years, and misfiring on all six extra-man opportunities didn't help. But Mustangs coach Paul Cantabene said Taylor deserved credit for his play.
"They should be thanking their goalie," Cantabene said. "I thought he was unbelievable today. We hit a few pipes, but he was outstanding today. He's been the big difference in the last two games, and he's playing well as the season goes."