SALISBURY -- Forget the seeding controversy. Jim Berkman has. His Salisbury State lacrosse team has a difficult NCAA Division III semifinal at Ohio Wesleyan Sunday, and although it's a task the Sea Gulls don't feel they deserve, it's one they think they can handle.
Salisbury State, the top-ranked team in the nation since April 7, beat Ithaca in yesterday's quarterfinals, scoring the first six goals of the third quarter en route to a 16-10 shelling of the Bombers.
The Sea Gulls next travel to Ohio Wesleyan, which has had the nation's second-most productive program since 1987. Easily the best has been Hobart, the only champion the Division III tournament has known since its inception in 1980. The Statesmen are at Nazareth in the other semifinal Sunday, with times to be announced today.
The championship game will be played May 18.
With strength of schedule as its chief criterion, the Division III selection committee didn't think Salisbury State (14-0) deserved the top berth in its half of the bracket. That's why the Sea Gulls must travel Sunday, and it explains the team's show-them mood. In its ninth NCAA tournament since 1980, Salisbury State is looking for its first berth in the finals, and it is doubtful the Sea Gulls have ever been this deep, balanced or explosive in the goal-scoring department.
"We're out to here to prove something," junior midfielder Art Morley said. "We want to prove what Salisbury State lacrosse is all about."
Morley and three other junior college transfers have the Sea Gulls working at a faster pace. The senior attack unit of Rick Berkman, Eric Ungleich and Rusty Pritzlaff returned from a team that went 11-4 last year, finishing with an embarrassing 23-5 loss at Hobart in the national semifinals, and the new faces have made them more effective.
Morley and Jeff Chenowith were teammates at Fallston High and Essex Community College, Kevin Hohner came in from Nassau and Chris Boyle is another New Yorker, down from Corning. Following the starting attack, they're the next four leading point-getters.
"The thing is, until we got here, all four of us were attackman in high school and junior college," Morley said.
Pritzlaff shows his teammates his NCAA championship ring from 1986, when he was a freshman at Hobart. A well-traveled grad of Severn School, he appreciates what the new blood at Salisbury has added.
"Last year, we ran a much more structured offense," Pritzlaff said. "Those guys pick the ball up at the defensive end, and they're gone. They see the whole field, and we take any transition opportunities we can get. Whoever has the ball, it seems like it's in the right stick."
Pritzlaff had three goals and three assists yesterday, giving him 48 and 29 for the season. Ungleich had two and two, improving to 44 and 49. Berkman, the coach's nephew, was limited to one assist, leaving him with 56 goals and 38 assists. Hohner had three goals, Morley and Boyle two apiece.
Scott Bentkowski and Geoff Sanders each worked a half in the goal, and each had six saves against an Ithaca (9-3) team that started three sophomores and two freshman. Dave Darcangelo had three goals for the Bombers, who are coached by Jeff Long, a Navy All-American in the mid-1970s.