SALISBURY, Md. – A weather delay couldn't dampen the spirits of the fans at the Salisbury University men's lacrosse team's semifinal match against Stevenson University on Sunday afternoon as the Sea Gulls brought on a storm of their own, defeating the Mustangs 14-13 in overtime to advance to the NCAA Division III Men's Lacrosse Championship game.
Stevenson (19-2) struck first in the highly physical game, scoring on an extra-man opportunity just 1:26 into the contest. The maroon and gold answered back just over a minute later as sophomore attackman Matt Cannone (Bayport, N.Y.) scored his 49th goal of the season. Just 40 seconds later, senior attackman Mike Winter (Port Washington, N.Y.) gave the Gulls (21-1) their first lead of the game as he netted his 49th goal of the year. The Mustangs would score again shortly thereafter to knot up the game at two apiece; it would mark the first of four times that the game would be tied in the first half. The Sea Gulls' one-goal deficit at the end of the first quarter turned into a one-goal lead at the half as Salisbury outscored Stevenson 3-1 in the second quarter to take a 7-6 edge at halftime.
When inclement weather hit the area in the third quarter with 13:32 left to play, Salisbury held an 8-6 advantage over Stevenson. When play resumed 45 minutes later, Salisbury wasted no time extending its lead to three goals as sophomore midfielder Sam Bradman (Canton, N.Y.) netted an unassisted score. The Mustangs proceeded to score three straight goals in a span of just over one minute to even up the game at nine apiece, but a rip by Cannone found its way into the back of the net to give Salisbury a 10-9 lead. With 2:16 left to play in the quarter, Cannone struck again to give the Gulls a two-goal cushion; 18 seconds later, Bradman fired the ball past Mustang keeper Geoff Hebert to pad that cushion to three. One Mustang goal would cut the lead back to two, but Salisbury retained a 12-10 advantage going into the final quarter of the game.
It became increasingly clear in the fourth quarter that neither team would go down without a fight. Both squads went into defensive mode as only a combined four goals were scored in the final 15 minutes. With just 1:31 left in the game, Stevenson's Richie Ford netted a shot that tied up the game at 13 and sent the contest into overtime.
The Mustangs won the face-off in the overtime period and quickly made their way down the field. However, excellent defense by long-stick midfielder Connor Burgasser (Mendon, N.Y.) led to a turnover and subsequent ground ball pickup. Burgasser dished the ball to senior defender Will Poletis (Baltimore, Md.), who sprinted down the field. Salisbury called a time-out and set up the game-winning play.
The ball went to Bradman, who waited for Winter to position himself in front of the Mustang net before executing a perfect pass. As soon as the ball landed in Winter's stick, it was out again – this time in the back of the goal. Sea Gull fans exploded. Salisbury will be in search of the program's ninth national championship.
Winter scored a game-high four goals in the thrilling victory. Goalkeeper Johnny Rodriguez (Gambrills, Md.) posted 16 saves. Salisbury caused 15 turnovers, including the clutch turnover by Burgasser which eventually earned the Sea Gulls their ticket to the big dance. "Those are probably two of the best teams in the country," said Head Coach Jim Berkman in reference to the six times Salisbury has faced off against Stevenson in the past two years; with today's game in the books, the two-year series record stands at 3-3. "We were fortunate to win this last one."
Today's win also gives Salisbury the victory in the season series between the teams; the Sea Gulls won the first meeting against the Mustangs, 16-10, before falling in the Capital Athletic Conference championship by a score of 10-6. Salisbury advances to the national championship game for the fourth time in five years; the only break in that period came last year in the NCAA quarterfinals as Stevenson trumped Salisbury, 11-9. Salisbury will face Tufts University in the national championship game on Sunday, May 30 at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md., at noon.