In 11 career meetings, Salisbury has won seven contests. The top-ranked and nine-time reigning national champion Sea Gulls are 14-0 overall and 6-0 in the Capital Athletic Conference and haven’t been beaten since last April 16, when they lost to Stevenson. The No. 4 Mustangs (12-2, 6-0) have won their past seven games and are undefeated at home this season (8-0). The winner of this contest will be in control of finishing first in the league and earning the top seed and homefield advantage in the conference tournament. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills on Saturday night.
1) Salisbury’s shot efficiency. In the 11 meetings, the Sea Gulls have finished with more shots just three times, but their shot selection has been the more valuable statistic. In those seven victories, the offense put more than 62 percent of its shots on net and scored a combined 111 goals. “We’re not worried about taking 60 shots or 70 shots on Saturday,” Salisbury coach Jim Berkman said. “We want 30 good shots on goal. If we get 30 shots on goal, we’re going to score some goals. We don’t need to take shots just to say that we’re shooting. We want to take good shots. A good number for us is, if we get 30 shots on goal on Saturday, we’re going to score a few goals. But if we get 45 shots and 22 of them are on goal, it’s probably not going to be such a good night.”
2) Stevenson’s clearing game. The Mustangs are blessed with tremendous athleticism on defense, which is exemplified by that unit’s ability to collect groundballs. In fact, six of the team’s top eight in that category are defensive starters in defensemen Kyle Holechek (58), Kyle Fendlay (48), Parker Bratton (35), goalkeeper Ian Bolland (43), long-stick midfielder Ryan Rubenstein (31) and short-stick defensive midfielder Connor Curro (30). Coach Paul Cantabene said it’s important for the team to successfully clear the ball against the Sea Gulls. “I think we’ve got to get it out of our own end,” he said. “I think we’ve got to get the ball out of our own end the first time and only time. We’ve got to do a good job of clearing it. If we don’t do a good job of clearing it, then we’re going to struggle a little bit. … You can’t give a team like Salisbury a lot of second chances. I think we’re good at getting it out of our own end, but we’ve got to make good decisions once we get it in our sticks, and that’s going to be a big emphasis for us in this game.”
3) Salisbury’s passing. The Sea Gulls have capable ball carriers who can also distribute the ball. Berkman, who reviewed game film of Stevenson’s 12-9 victory over then-No. 8 Denison last Saturday, said the offensive players must be careful when handling the ball against the Mustangs’ pressure defense. “I think on the offensive end, we’ve got to keep our head up and possess the ball against their pressure,” Berkman said. “We’ve got to seize our opportunities when they’re trying to create havoc and create pressure instead of succumbing to it like I’ve seen a lot of teams on film have. They’ve forced a lot of turnovers by teams just on basic passes. The team makes three good passes and then somebody’s wide open and because they can’t recover under pressure, that team can’t make the fourth pass. Hopefully, we’re going to be able to make that fourth pass because that’s one of our assets. If we can do that, we’re going to get those 30 good shots.”