The end of Washington College's drought against Salisbury started to sink in as the Shoremen took a victory lap.
Past the grandstand. Past hundreds of students who reveled on a hill overlooking Roy Kirby Jr. Stadium well after the game.
Wednesday's 7-6 victory didn't erase a dozen straight losses in the "War on the Shore." But it was another sign of how far Washington College has come in the past couple of years.
"To me, it's a culmination of everything — highs and lows," senior attackman Bennett Cord said. "It's not over yet, so I can't really say, but right now this is the biggest moment in my lacrosse career."
Hunter Nowicki (Franklin) zipped in the game-winner with 1:04 remaining and Ted DiSalvo made 11 saves for the No. 12 Shoremen (11-2), who scored the final four goals to rally past the No. 5 Sea Gulls (13-4) before an announced 2,049.
It was a significant step for Jeff Shirk's program. The former Virginia Military Institute coach arrived at Washington College as it was coming off its first 10-loss season in nearly 40 years. After a losing debut season in 2011, the Shoremen returned to the NCAA Division III tournament following a three-year hiatus last spring.
Dispatching their fiercest rival for the first time since 2002 — and the first time at home since 1990 — was another momentous step.
"I've been in coaching for 13 years and I've coached some good players and good teams," Shirk said. "I've never been more proud of a group."
Salisbury entered the final quarter with a 6-3 lead, with Glenelg grad Alex Taylor (11 saves) deftly handling nearly everything he faced in the Sea Gulls net. That wasn't much trouble; the Shoremen had more turnovers (12) than shots (nine) in the middle two quarters.
But Washington College got a goal back quickly, and midfielder Grant Hughes snagged a ground ball and bounced it in with 6:05 to pull the Shoremen within 6-5.
"That's a play we didn't make against Dickinson [in a 15-10 loss Saturday], so you could just feel the psyche of the team on the sideline going, 'There we go. That's what we need to get the ball rolling,' " Shirk said.
Meanwhile, the Sea Gulls sputtered on offense, committing turnovers on their final six possessions and eight total in the final quarter. Salisbury mustered only two shots in the final 10:38.
"Alex and the defense gave us every opportunity to win the game tonight, but what we did on offense in the first and fourth quarter didn't give us an opportunity to win," Salisbury coach Jim Berkman said. "Fourth quarter, we couldn't pass and catch."
Washington College could. Cord found Kodie Englehart open with plenty of space, and the midfielder fired an 18-yard dart past Taylor with 2:17 remaining. Then the Shoremen got the ball to Nowicki, who came in from the right side for perhaps the most memorable goal of his career.
"It is one of the biggest rivalries in lacrosse, so just to get the 'W' here is amazing," Nowicki said. "We've been kind of close before, and then they tend to pull away a little bit. This has been the story of our season. We've come back in three games now. We knew we were coming back."
They were just as certain they would finish it off. Salisbury's penalty for its third faceoff violation of the half gave the Shoremen possession and an extra-man opportunity that helped burn off the clock.
Twenty minutes later, Shirk savored the lingering scene as students continued to celebrate yet another milestone for his fast-improving program.
"This is a phenomenal day," Shirk said. "But it won't be the last."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times