SALISBURY, Md. – The No. 1 Salisbury University men's lacrosse team held on for a 12-11 national semifinal victory over No. 7 Denison University on Sunday afternoon at Sea Gull Stadium.
With 31 seconds to go in the contest, Denison had possession and was down by one and called a timeout to draw up a play. Aaron Leeds sniffed out the backdoor feed and picked off the pass for his fifth and final caused turnover of the game, sending the Gulls packing for Gillette Stadium and the 2017 national championship game.
The win is Salisbury's 40th straight NCAA victory at the friendly confines of Sea Gull Stadium.
The Gulls (21-1) wasted no time getting on the board as six seconds in, Duncan Campbell had already been credited with a faceoff win, a groundball, and the game's opening goal as he won it forward and found the top shelf after charging down field.
The Big Red (18-2) however did not let the early strike phase them as they tied the game up at 12:30 of the first.
The two sides each scored twice more in the opening quarter as Nick Garbarino and Nathan Blondino both converted on goals for the Sea Gulls. Blondino's goal came on the man up as Corey Gwin found him on a skip pass that he caught low and delivered to the top shelf from 13 yards out.
Garbarino ended his day with five goals, while Blondino had one goal and one assist.
Salisbury dominated the second quarter to take a 7-4 lead into the break. Garbarino scored three of the Gulls' four goals in the quarter while Josh Melton added the other. Garbarino scored off a Garrett Reynolds feed into the crease that Garbarino somehow converted on despite the defender being all over him on the crease. The Garbarino goal pushed the SU lead to 7-3 before the visitors scored the last goal of the half at 4:00.
At halftime, the teams' stats showed clean lacrosse had been played as the sides combined for a perfect 19-for-19 on clears and just 13 turnovers. Both Salisbury and Denison attempted 15 shots in the half and Denison held a 13-11 edge on groundballs.
The third quarter would be the last that Salisbury would outscore Denison with Brendan Bromwell, Reynolds, and Garbarino all finding the back of the net. The goal for Reynolds came with Salisbury on the man down. Reynolds was running circles around the offensive zone to kill time but he saw an opening after being over played and took it to the cage and finished with contact for the Gulls' first man-down goal of the season.
Salisbury had its lead up to 10-5 after Garbarino's tally at 4:48, but the Big Red came storming back. At 11:48 in the fourth, Will Donohue hit to make it three in a row for the visitors but Garbarino answered with the highlight of the day.
Kevin McDermott and Garbarino were playing a two-man game behind the cage and McDermott rolled it back to X to Garbarino who drove the left side with the stick in his right hand and tucked it around the keeper to stop the Denison run.
Denison responded 11 seconds after the Garbarino goal to bring the score to 11-9 with just over nine minutes to play. Salisbury netted its 12th of the day when Gwin took his defender behind the net and swim dodged him to get a lane to the net before scoring. The Gwin goal stood as the game winner with Salisbury needing to hold on down the stretch. Gwin had two goals and one assist by game's end.
Donohue and Hannibal George strung together two goals for Denison to bring the score to 12-11 with 2:50 to play. Salisbury eventually got possession and with a stall clock on, intentionally turned the ball over with 48 seconds to play. The Big Red cleared the ball and took their timeout with 31 seconds to play to set up Leeds' heroics.
In addition to the five caused turnovers, Leeds turned in a team-high five groundballs. Cory Berry was just behind Leeds with four caused turnovers. Kyle Tucker also had a great defensive day as he was tasked with marking the nation's third leading scorer in Liam Rooney and held him 2.40 points lower than his season average.
Salisbury will now advance to the 2017 men's lacrosse national championship game against Rochester Institute of Technology. That game is set for 5 p.m., at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.