By dispensing of visiting Denison, 14-7, in a NCAA tournament quarterfinal at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills Wednesday night, Stevenson got what it desperately wanted: another shot at nine-time reigning national champion and Capital Athletic Conference archrival Salisbury in a national semifinal on Sunday.
And that desire was vividly expressed by sophomore attackman Tyler Reid, who said the Mustangs are eager to make amends for their April 14 loss in which the Sea Gulls rallied from a 9-3 deficit late in the third quarter to escape with an 11-10 decision on a goal from senior attackman Matt Cannone with 11 seconds left in regulation.
“We want them,” he said. “We want our redemption. There’s nothing better than going against a team twice already this season and being right there. We gift-wrapped them the first game. They didn’t win that game and they know it. I honestly think they’re scared. We match up well with them, and it’s going to be a close game. The way we’ve been playing, I think they want to play us, too. I think when it comes down to it, they want to go at us. It’s going to be a good game.”
Bulletin-board material aside, Stevenson has been the most persistent thorn in Salisbury’s side. Since Paul Cantabene assumed the Mustangs’ reins for the 2005 season, they have tagged the Sea Gulls with four of their eight losses over that span.
Both sides have faced each other three times in 2009 and 2010, but no team has ever won the first two meetings.
Stevenson senior goalkeeper Ian Bolland said he hopes that the Salisbury players are feeling comfortable as they approach Sunday’s national semifinal in Salisbury.
“It’s all mental with that,” Bolland said. “If you get the idea in your head that you already beat them twice and you should beat them again, then it’s going to be a struggle because the other team will be ready to play. So it depends mentally on how both teams prepare for the game, and the mentally strong people will prevail.”
With the Mustangs moving to the Middle Atlantic Conference next year, this will be the last time these two sides face each other three times in a single season. That should add even more spice to the upcoming contest.
“I think this one is going to be sweeter than most, and I think we have to play our absolute best game this year,” junior defenseman Kyle Holechek said. “We kind of [had a] letdown here when we played them, but I think if we can buckle down and play our best game, we’ll definitely give them a run for their money.”
*One of the keys to Stevenson’s convincing win over Denison Wednesday night was the defense’s ability to contain Eddie Vita. The sophomore attackman scored three goals in the April 7 meeting against the Mustangs and amassed three goals and two assists in the Big Red’s 10-5 upset of No. 2 seed Lynchburg in last Saturday’s second round. But Vita took just one shot and scored once against Stevenson. Holechek, who handled the primary assignment of marking Vita, said the plan was to actually concentrate on Denison’s midfielders. “We focused a little bit more on the middies because that’s where they start,” Holechek said. “I think once we finished there, we could focus on him. As much as we wanted to focus on him, he’s the guy who gets the pass from a guy getting open. He was almost in the background a little bit. I think by taking care of the first part, by taking care of the midfielders, we were able to do a whole lot more than focusing on him.”
*Freshman Sam Wyatt had won 71.4 percent (25-of-35) of his faceoffs in Stevenson’s previous two postseason wins. But after he opened Wednesday night’s game by winning just 1-of-3 draws, Wyatt was pulled in favor of senior Doug Reidt, who won 10-of-17 against Big Red sophomore Chip Phillips (11-of-22). “Doug played against him in the last game and was real successful,” Cantabene said. “Sam just started out a little slow, and after the first three, we decided to go with Doug because he just does it well. He didn’t get credit for the number of faceoffs that he won because we dropped a couple groundballs and made a couple mistakes, but I thought he faced off really well and got after it. That’s what those guys have done all year. Those guys just grind it out. That’s why we’ve got the three guys on the roster. So we can go to all three guys and they do a good job.”
*This year’s squad has already been more successful than last year’s version, which dropped a 13-12 decision to Roanoke in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. It’s a somewhat surprising turn of developments for a group that many in the preseason would have to endure a rebuilding period this season. “I would never have thought that this team would have gone farther than last year’s team because they were so talented,” Cantabene said. “But this year’s guys have just played well as a team, and that’s real exciting for a coach to see guys just playing together.”