COLLEGE PARK -- Salisbury State ended six years of playoff frustration, broke Hobart's seemingly endless grip on the Division III lacrosse world and did it all with surprising ease before a record crowd at Byrd Stadium yesterday.
The Sea Gulls, displaying the defense and depth that brought them to their second championship game in four seasons, completed a perfect year by dismantling a legend. They took an early 2-0 lead, never trailed and held Hobart scoreless for the final 17:38 to claim their first national title with a 15-9 victory before 12,142.
The largest crowd in the history of the Division III tournament witnessed a passing of the torch. Hobart (11-3), which had won 13 of the previous 14 Division III tournaments -- including a 12-11 victory over Salisbury State in the 1991 final -- moves to Division I next year.
Salisbury State (16-0) gave the Statesmen a painful send-off, handing Hobart only its second playoff defeat in the past 14 years.
For Salisbury State coach Jim Berkman, the game marked an occasion to bury the postseason ghosts that have haunted him during his six seasons on the Shore. In five previous trips to the national tournament, Berkman's teams had advanced twice beyond the quarterfinals, with both of those seasons ending at the hands of the Statesmen.
"Definitely, the biggest reward is winning the national championship. But to beat Hobart, which has been a first-class lacrosse program at any level for so long and the only team during my tenure at Salisbury State that we haven't beaten, that definitely adds icing to the cake," Berkman said.
The Sea Gulls also pleased Berkman with their signature effort of the season. Salisbury State came into the contest averaging 20.1 goals, with nearly 40 percent of that production from attackmen Jason Coffman and Sean Radebaugh.
Yesterday, Coffman and Radebaugh managed only one goal apiece, but that left room for freshman midfielder Jake Bergey to step up with a career-high five goals. Senior midfielder Todd Cliggett, another lightly regarded scoring threat, recorded three goals and an assist.
The rest of the afternoon belonged to the Salisbury State defense, which entered the game surrendering a paltry 6.9 goals per outing. Led by Chris McQueeney, Tom McAuliffe and goalie Erik Miller, the Sea Gulls allowed Hobart's attack of Cabell Maddux, Eric Curry and Matt Crowther a hard-earned six goals, while stifling the rest of the Statemen's offense.
While outscoring its opponents by a 3-1 margin this season, one of the Sea Gulls' more impressive assets has been its refusal to allow extra-man goals. Yesterday, Salisbury State's aggressive checking and pushing led to 12 penalties, but the Sea Gulls permitted only three goals in man-down situations. And in the closing minutes with the championship well in hand, the Sea Gulls continued to pressure the Statesmen.
"We have a lot of weapons. That's why we've been so effective," Berkman said. "All I ever hear about is how we average 20 goals a game. The defense won the game today. The heart and soul of everything we do starts with defense."
The defense got a huge boost from Miller, who wound up his college career with a 16-save effort that earned him the Most Outstanding Player award. He may have saved the title in the third period, when he made seven saves -- including several on point-blank shots -- to stop a 3-0 Hobart run that cut Salisbury State's lead to 11-9.
"I got lucky with the first two saves [that stopped the run]. I was just in the right place at the right time," Miller said. "The crowd was going crazy, and that gave me a little more energy to stop the next one. I knew I was going to get a lot of shots today. They are good shooters."
Not as good as the Sea Gulls. Topping off a tournament in which they outscored their three opponents, 59-24, the Sea Gulls converted 15 of 36 shots against goalie Jim Gracey (10 saves), who made only one save in the second half.
Hobart spent the day chasing the Sea Gulls. For most of the first half, the Statesmen trailed by one or two goals. Cliggett's back-to-back goals in the final four minutes gave the Sea Gulls a 9-6 halftime advantage.
Bergey, who scored four goals in the second half, then hurt Hobart with back-to-back scores. His final goal went between Gracey's legs and gave Salisbury State an 11-6 lead with 7:38 left in the third quarter. Between those goals, Miller made three spectacular saves.
Hobart then came to life for the only time in the second half. In a four-minute stretch, the Statesmen scored three unanswered goals, the last one by Maddux to cut the Sea Gulls' lead to 11-9 with 2:38 left in the period.
Cliggett then took a pass from Dod Poe and blew a high, 15-yard shot by Gracey to make it 12-9 with 48 seconds left. Bergey and the defense took over in the fourth period. Bergey added two goals, and the defense shut out Hobart, despite three man-down situations.