Salisbury is 9-4 in this series against its Capital Athletic Conference rival, but since coach Paul Cantabene took Stevenson’s reins in 2005, the Mustangs have tagged the Sea Gulls with four of their eight losses over that same span. Stevenson (18-4), which has won its last four contests, is making its third Final Four appearance in the last four years, but has never gotten to the NCAA tournament final. The nine-time reigning national champion Sea Gulls (21-0) haven’t lost since April 16, 2011 – to the Mustangs – and are playing to get to their 14th title game. Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome of this NCAA tournament semifinal at Sea Gull Stadium in Salisbury Sunday afternoon.
1) Salisbury’s turnovers. Because of their free-wheeling style and frenetic pace, the Sea Gulls are averaging 19.9 turnovers this season, which is not an alarming number for coach Jim Berkman because of his confidence in the players. Still, he was pleased by Salisbury’s performance in Wednesday night’s 14-4 rout of Cabrini during which the starters committed just seven turnovers through the first three quarters. “We’re a tough team to beat when we only have seven turnovers,” Berkman said. “And last year in the championship game, we had 10 turnovers for the game. So it’s tournament time and it’s time to take care of the ball. If we take care of the ball and get a good shot with the shooters that we have, we like our chances.”
2) Stevenson’s man-up offense. The Mustangs have scored 10 or more goals in 13 of their last 14 contests, going 12-1 over that span. But they have not taken advantage of extra-man opportunities. That issue was most problematic in the two losses to the Sea Gulls as Stevenson converted just 3-of-16 man-up chances. Coach Paul Cantabene knows the offense must be more opportunistic when those situations arise. “You’ve got to score when you get fouled,” he said. “We’ve been working on some things, but it’s going to be huge. So we’ve got to play well on extra man and finish. The last time, I thought we played really well on extra man. We just hit a lot of pipes, and it didn’t go for us. So we’re going to have to make adjustments and do some good things there and play well, and we’ll see what happens.”
3) Salisbury’s faceoffs. Junior faceoff specialist Tyler Granelli has played a significant role for the Sea Gulls, winning 63 percent (29-of-46) of his draws in the victories over the Mustangs. While those wins may not have necessarily translated into more shots, Berkman noted that Granelli’s prowess proved especially key during Salisbury’s runs in both games. “When we made that run in the second half up there [on April 14] to get back in the game, we were scoring goals and getting the ball back,” he said. “So that obviously gave us a chance to come back in that game. And when we had a nice little run in the beginning of the last game when we jumped on them 7-2, we won the majority of the faceoffs in that run, too, and even when we scored a few goals in the fourth quarter, we were getting the ball back. So we were getting 2-for-1 on the possessions even if they got a stop.”