For the third time in the last four seasons, Stevenson and Salisbury will meet in the NCAA Division III tournament semifinals and at stake is a spot in the championship final at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on May 26.
Both sides took different paths to the same destination. The No. 4 Mustangs (20-2) have been ranked in top five for pretty much the entire year and collected a program-record 20th victory with Wednesday night’s 13-7 victory over No. 13 Lynchburg.
The No. 12 Sea Gulls (17-5) are the reigning national champion, but they accrued five losses in the regular season and were the last team to earn an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s the two teams that have survived the war this year,” Salisbury coach Jim Berkman said Thursday. “It’s been an interesting season. I read the one article in Lax Magazine about how there’s all this parity, but in the end, it comes down to Salisbury and Stevenson again for the third time in the last four years. We’ve both been able to weather the storm and play well in the big games so that we can get this opportunity. We’re excited to be in this game, and we’re looking forward to giving it our best shot.”
The Sea Gulls are 10-5 against Stevenson, which lost to Salisbury in the 2010 and 2012 national semifinals. The Mustangs won the regular-season meeting, 10-8, between the teams, but coach Paul Cantabene knows his players will have their hands full with the Sea Gulls.
“They’re a great team, and they’re playing much better at this time of the year,” Cantabene said. “We watched the [quarterfinal] game earlier, and we thought they beat an excellent Dickinson team [last Wednesday]. After [the Red Devils] were up 5-1, they made the comeback and played really well and controlled three-fourths of that game. We’re going to have our hands full. It’s going to be a great game. We’re excited to play them again. We’re used to playing them two or three times a year. So it’s nothing new to us. We lost to them three times last year, and they were a lot of close games. We’re eager to play them again and see what it’s like on our home field. It’s going to be a great game, and I’m sure Coach Berkman is going to have them ready to go.”
While others may have hoped for a fresh face in the Final Four, both sides said this is the matchup they wanted.
“Someone earlier in the week asked me if I’d rather play Dickinson or Salisbury. Without a doubt, I said Salisbury,” Stevenson senior midfielder Peter Green said. “That’s the game you come here to play in. It’s two tough teams going to battle, and it’ll be a good one on Sunday.”
Added Berkman: “You’ve got to beat everybody as the champion. Everyone asks me that question 20 times. If you’re going to be the champion, you’ve got to beat whoever is in your next game. That’s what a national champion does. So you can’t look back to who you want or who you don’t want to get. We’ve got to go play this team, and we’ve got to get it done.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times