Denison enters this NCAA tournament quarterfinal with a 15-1 record and a six-game winning streak. But the Big Red’s only loss of the season occurred April 7 at the hands of Stevenson, which is 17-4 and has won five of its last six contests. The Mustangs are 3-1 all-time against Denison and have won 12 of 13 games at home this season, most recently against Gettysburg in the second round last Saturday night. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills Wednesday night.
1) Denison’s slowdown strategy vs. Stevenson’s up-tempo style. In that April 7 victory, the Mustangs scored the first five goals en route to a 9-2 advantage before the Big Red went on a 5-1 run to trim the deficit to three. Denison’s spurt was fueled by its ability to slow the pace and dictate the tempo. Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene is expecting a similar strategy Wednesday night and emphasized his team’s priority of successfully transitioning from defense to offense. “The key is when you get the ball on the ground when your goalie makes the save, you’ve got to clear it the first time and get it up,” he said. “We don’t want to give them extended possessions to wear us down. And they don’t play a lot of people. They play that first midfield a ton. So it’s going to be interesting to see how the game goes when they’re playing that first midfield 80, 90 percent of the time.”
2) Denison’s Eddie Vita vs. Stevenson’s Kyle Holechek. Another factor in the Big Red’s attempted comeback was the play of Vita, a sophomore attackman who scored three goals in that contest. Vita, who registered three goals and two assists in Saturday’s 10-5 victory over No. 2 seed Lynchburg in the second round, will likely get the attention of Holechek, a junior defenseman. “He’s a really good off-ball guy,” Cantabene said of Vita. “He doesn’t carry a ton for them. He makes most of his advantage on extra man and stuff like that. He’s really scrappy around the net and finishes. We’ve definitely got to be aware of that. He’s a good finisher, but we’ve played some great finishers this year, and he’s no exception to the rule.”
3) Denison’s Chip Phillips vs. Stevenson’s Sam Wyatt. The Big Red has relied heavily on the prowess of Phillips, a sophomore who ranks 11th in Division III with a 67.0 faceoff percentage (211-of-315), to give them many possessions. Phillips won 54.5 percent (12-of-22) on April 7 and will likely tangle with Wyatt, a sophomore who has won 71.4 percent (25-of-35) in the Mustangs’ two postseason wins. “We faced off pretty well against him the last time,” Cantabene said of Phillips. “[Senior] Doug Reidt did a great job, and we think Sam Wyatt, who is facing off at 71 percent in the two playoffs games, has done a great job against two guys that were over 60 percent. So we think we’re going to have some options. Facing off is a game of matchups, and I think our kids have faced some of the best kids in the country. So I think they’ve learned from that experience, but you never know until the whistle blows.”