Salisbury vs. Tufts: Three things to watch
The heavily anticipated rematch of last year’s NCAA Division III tournament final pits Salisbury (20-1) against reigning 2010 national champion Tufts (18-2). The Sea Gulls, ranked No. 1 in the most recent United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll, advanced to its 10th title game in 13 years and are seeking the program’s ninth crown. Since falling to Bowdoin in the regular-season finale, the No. 5 Jumbos have won six consecutive games and are 13-1 in one-goal contests over the last two seasons. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday.
1) Salisbury’s ball security. Salisbury can play fast and go on the attack with many of its peers, but the players tend to protect the ball very well during those risky situations. But the Sea Gulls committed five more turnovers than Tufts in last year’s final. Fourteen of those 25 turnovers occurred in the second half, and although the Jumbos didn’t really convert those takeaways into goals, the inability to protect the ball hampered Salisbury’s chances of making a comeback. “We turned the ball over a lot on offense last year, and that was our downfall there,” Sea Gulls coach Jim Berkman recalled. “When they made their little run, they got some goals where we made mistakes defensively, but by the same token, we had several empty possessions where we didn’t even get a shot, which is uncharacteristic. We may shoot early sometimes, but we’re usually getting some shots. We got some possessions where we forced things, kids were flat-footed, we started to press a little bit where we didn’t even get shots on goal to force the goalie to make some saves. Hopefully, we’re going to take care of the ball a little bit better, which we’ve been doing. I think our first six or seven offensive players have been playing extremely well. So hopefully, we’ll take care of the ball and get some good possessions, especially early in the game.”
2) Tuft’s goalkeeper. Junior Steven Foglietta, the starter in last year’s final, sustained an unspecified injury in the Jumbos’ 14-13 win against Stevenson in the fourth game of the season. Foglietta made two more starts after that, but has since been replaced by freshman Patton Watkins, who has registered a 9.00 goals-against average and a .626 save percentage. There is some question as to how Watkins will perform on the grandest stage of the 2011 season, and Salisbury would love to get under his skin early and rattle him. But junior midfielder Sam Bradman cautioned against taking any and every shot against Watkins. “We want to get that first shot from close range,” Bradman said. “We want to break his spirit early. We don’t want to take that long-distance shot and let him get that confidence. So we want to get close and break him early.”
3) Salisbury’s start. The Sea Gulls usually waste little time jumping on their opponents, having outscored their opposition, 83-28, in the first quarter. But they came out flat in last year’s final, falling into a 6-1 hole after the opening period. Senior goalkeeper Johnny Rodriguez acknowledged his shock at the team’s uninspired start against Tufts, and he said the plan this weekend is to remember the objective. “When we went to Baltimore, I think we went more for the whole experience rather than just focusing on the business side of the deal, which was winning the national championship,” Rodriguez said. “We kind of lost sight of that, and it definitely showed in the first quarter when we allowed six goals. In the first 25 minutes of the game, we let up seven of the nine goals they scored in the game. I know we have the talent and the chemistry, and I know we definitely have the heart. We’ve just got to come out and be ready to go against this tough Tufts team.”