DELAWARE, Ohio -- Salisbury State goalie Dave Bentkowski found himself in an unusual spot in the second half of yesterday's NCAA Division III semifinal -- he was on the field.
Throughout the season, Bentkowski has been the Sea Gulls' starter in goal and Geoff Sanders served as the team's closer. But yesterday Bentkowski went the distance, as Salisbury recorded an 18-12 victory over Ohio Wesleyan.
The victory gives the Sea Gulls, 15-0 and No. 1 in the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association's Division III poll, their first shot at a national championship. They will play host to the winner of today's Nazareth-at-Hobart semifinal at 2 p.m. Saturday at Sea Gull Stadium.
Bentkowski made 27 saves, frustrating the run-and-gun Ohio Wesleyan offense, which still managed 35 more shots than Salisbury, 78-43.
"No question about it," said Ohio Wesleyan coach Lelan Rogers. "[Bentkowski] was the player of the day. We had a lot of shots, a lot of chances, but he kept them in the game."
Salisbury broke a 3-3 tie in the first quarter on goals by Kent Case and Rusty Pritzlaff and never looked back. By the end of the first half, the Sea Gulls seemed in command, 9-6.
The Sea Gulls put the game away with a 7-1 run that began with four straight goals just after halftime and left them leading 16-7 with 11 minutes to play.
Salisbury State coach Jim Berkman said depth was the determining factor.
"We played a lot of middies then, and we may have worn them down some," Berkman said. "We also stayed out of the penalty box."
The No. 2 Battling Bishops (13-3) were stymied by Salisbury's packed-in zone defense and could not crank up their transition game. Ohio Wesleyan dominated the stat sheet, winning more ground balls (65-47) and faceoffs (22 of 34), but its midfield was forced to play a grueling defensive game.
"It took their legs away," Berkman said. "We made them run."
Said Rogers: "We knew what they were going to do, but we thought our midfield would play better defense."
Ohio Wesleyan never did figure a way to beat Bentkowski, who refused to wilt even after the Bishops rallied for four straight goals to cut Salisbury's lead to 16-11 with 4:33 to play. Goals by Jim Chenoweth and Rick Berkman then terminated any thoughts of a big Bishop comeback.
"You just get more and more confidence," said Bentkowski, who was in a good groove from the start. "You get psyched up."
And despite his big day, Bentkowski said he won't mind sharing time with Sanders in the championship game. "We've rotated all year," he said. "It's not an individual effort that wins championships, it's a team effort."
Rick Berkman led Salisbury with four goals and three assists. Pritzlaff contributed four goals and two assists.
Ohio Wesleyan was led by Jim Franz (three goals, five assists) and Bill Bishop (three and three).