Foxboro, MA – The Salisbury Sea Gulls repeated as national champs by out-gunning the Cortland Red Dragons, 19-13. The Sea Gulls shot the ball well, finishing 19 of their 33 shots, took advantage of extra-man opportunities and got the play it needed from its defense to win its 8th National Championship. Salisbury's Kylor Berkman was the game's Most Outstanding Player as he racked up five goals and two assists. Seniors Greg Titus and Bruce Richardson went out with style contributing five points. Senior goalie Nick Fiorentino was the best story of the day as he stopped 14 Red Dragon shots. Joey Morgan and Chris Hannon both stepped up for Cortland with four goals and an assist each.
The game quickly showed the stark contrast between the styles of play in DI and DIII. Saturday's early DI semifinal game was very exciting at the end as Syracuse stormed back and won in double overtime. Hopkins win over Duke was exciting at the end, as they held onto a slim lead and Duke tried to claw their way back. However, throughout the game, the offenses seemed to be scripted. The plan seemed to be to control the ball and find the best possible opportunity. From a technical standpoint that is good lacrosse, from the view of the fan, however, it can sometimes get boring. That was why when Salisbury and Cortland came out gunning on Sunday afternoon, it was received with open arms to the DIII Championship record crowd of 24,317. Neither team was afraid to take chances to create goals. The first "keep it in!" warning wasn't heard until there were less than ten minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Even so Salisbury was only warned to keep it in a handful of times late in the game as they ran out the clock. In a typical DI game these days, those calls come a lot earlier and a lot more often.
Cortland got on the board to start when Adam Hyde found Joey Morgan less than a minute into the game. This seemed to be a make-or-break point for the Sea Gulls. They've battled back numerous times this year to get late victories. Yet, things are different with the fourth-string goalie, Nick Fiorentino, in. They didn't waste any time feeling sorry for themselves and weren't about to let arguably the next most explosive offense in the country (other than themselves) get into a rhythm.
Offensively, Salisbury moved the ball well and found themselves with a plethora of great opportunities.
"Michael (Robinson) [Cortland junior goalie] was obviously struggling. Throughout the three quarters, I certainly don't put all our ills and troubles on Mike's shoulders, but he was having a tough time," said Cortland head coach Steve Beville.
"We putt Matt Hipenbecker in, and really didn't get the spark we were looking for. I had a little conversation with Mike, and he's the one who got us there this year, and decided to go with him in the fourth quarter."
While Robinson could have possibly made a few more saves, Cortland looked out of sort on the defensive end. Pretty much all of Salisbury's seven first quarter goals came on defensive breakdowns, either they failed to slide, or left a man wide open with a great look at the net. In any case, Robinson didn't have much help as Salisbury placed the ball pretty well throughout the game.
As Salisbury's offense began to click, one of the feel good stories of the year took over. While the Sea Gulls had to deal with former starters Zach Krissoff and Riley Clark's arrest and expulsion last week for off-field vandalism, the fourth string goalie, Nick Fiorentino, got the opportunity of a lifetime. Fiorentino didn't make Salisbury's team as a freshman in '05, wound up being the last player onto the roster in '06, then broke his leg midway through the '07 season. This year he was relegated to being fourth on the depth chart. With the expulsions and third option Mike Petti still injured Fiorentino got his second career start (his first was against Hood in April) against Gettysburg in the Final Four. The Sea Gulls pulled out a double overtime victory while Fiorentino contributed eight saves.
After Cortland started the scoring, Fiorentino settled down and made eight saves in the first half. He stopped six more shots in the second half. He even slid out and crumpled a Cortland attacker causing a turnover in the second quarter.
"Nick's a good goalie. We have a great program and have a lot of depth. Nick is a tribute to all those guys who have never touched the field that made our program great in practices," said Salisbury head coach Jim Berkman.
"But, he stepped up and had a great game...They stuck a few today, but he held the pipe, he stayed big, he played the odds a little bit and had a tremendous game...He's a student of the game. And when a student of the game gets his opportunity, he usually does pretty well."
Backups often become starters at all levels of sports, but rare is it that a position as important as lacrosse goalie has to do that on the eve of a Final Four showdown with a ridiculous winning streak on the line. Salisbury has only lost two games since the start of the 2003 season. For perspective, since Fiorentino showed up at Salisbury, he has only seen them lose once.
"There was a lot of emotion, excitement, nervousness, being thrown in there like that," said the senior goalie Fiorentino.
"I didn't want to be the guy that was the reason for the loss. But overall, this is a dream come true. This is unbelievable."
Ultimately, it was a team effort up-and-down the field that keeps Salisbury dominating DIII. No one player makes or breaks the team.
"I knew they were going to score some goals, so when that first one went in it was kind of a relief. I went to my defensemen and said, 'All right, they scored. So now we just got to roll from here.' Keeping composure is what I just had to do, try to make as many saves as I can and make Cortland be great shooters," said Fiorentino.
What's becoming an annual Cortland-Salisbury battle in the DIII championship game has lived up to the hype. Cortland hasn't been able to stop Salisbury's firepower since their overtime win in 2006. In this year's version, defensive lapses put them in a hole that they just couldn't climb out of. Of the 13 players awarded first-team All-American this season, seven played in this game. First-team AA senior attackman and the country's leading scorer, Ryan Heath, had two goals and two assists bringing his season total to 100 points for the year. But Salisbury's First-team AA senior defenseman Ben Sandlin actually held the advantage in that battle as all four of Heath's points came in the second half after Salisbury had already built a 14-7 lead. Credit Cortland as they kept fighting. A four goal run in the third brought the game back to three. Cortland also had a great effort from senior First-team AA midfielder Josh Cittadino. Cittadino dislocated his shoulder early in the game, but came back to win 13-of-19 faceoffs with seven groundballs, a goal and an assist, while making his presence known all over the field.
Another year ends in a perfect season for Salisbury despite all the talk about this being the year they would fall. Even though they made it interesting (four one goal games), regardless of who graduates, Salisbury is King of DIII until someone figures out a way to knock them off.
"This has been a storybook season for us. I know we've had a lot of success before, but as a coach this is one of the most rewarding seasons after losing the starting defense, the starting goalie, the two starting D-middies, and the player of the year long pole, Chase Caruso. We were virtually wiped out at the defensive end. To come back, go undefeated, and to win another title replacing all those guys, is a tribute to our program and our coaches," said Berkman.
Final Sea Gull Perch of 2008
∙ Salisbury has won titles in 1994, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and now 2008.
∙ Salisbury is 124-2 since the start of the 2003 season, including its current 45-game winning streak (the third-longest winning streak in NCAA history).
∙ Salisbury improves to 45-18 all time in 26 appearances in the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Sea Gulls broke the DIII record with its 15-7 victory over Cabrini in the quarterfinals, eclipsing the previous mark of 41 held by Hobart.
∙ Salisbury was making its sixth-straight appearance in the NCAA Championship game and seventh showing in the last nine years.
∙ Salisbury (22-0) finished its sixth undefeated season in school history.
∙ Salisbury's Kylor Berkman was named the game's Most Outstanding Player after scoring five goals and two assists.
∙ Salisbury made its NCAA-record 20th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament this year. Cortland owns the third-longest active streak with eight straight appearances, three behind Middlebury's current 11-year stretch.
∙ Salisbury owns a 4-5 all-time mark versus Cortland, including a 3-2 total in NCAA Tournament play.
∙ Salisbury set a championship game with seven goals in the first quarter. The previous record was six set by Hobart in the 1988 championship versus Ohio Wesleyan.
∙ Sunday marked the third-highest scoring national championship game as the teams combined for 32 total goals. Salisbury (22) and Nazareth (13) totaled a record 35 in 1995, while Nazareth (22) and Roanoke (11) rolled up 33 in the 1992 final.
∙ The 15 combined first half goals were the most since the 2004 championship when Salisbury (8) and Nazareth (7) also combined for 15. In 2000, Middlebury (11) and Salisbury (9) combined for the highest-scoring first half in championship game history.
∙ In a span of 10:29 starting at 6:38 of the first quarter, and ending at 11:09 of the second quarter, the two teams combined for 12 goals (7 by Salisbury, 5 by Cortland). The two teams then went scoreless for the rest of the half.
∙ The two teams combined for a championship-game record 10 goals in the first quarter, breaking the previous mark of nine in the 1994 championship game (Salisbury 5, Hobart 4).
∙ Salisbury's Jim Berkman is the winningest coach in the NCAA tournament histry with a 41-12 mark in 20 apperances.
∙ Salisbury's nine goals were the most Cortland had given up in the first half this season. The Red Dragons had yielded a season-high six to Middlebury (May 14) and Ithaca (March 22) before today.
∙ Salisbury's 19 goals were the most Cortland had allowed since yielding 17 in an 11-goal loss to RIT during the 1999 regular season.
∙ Cortland lost for the first time this season when scoring at least 10 goals.
Sunday's attendance of 24,317 was the largest in Division III national championship game history.
|Kylor Berkman||(5, 2)|
|Greg Titus||(2, 3)|
|Bruce Richardson||(5, 0)|
|Mike Von Kamecke||(3, 1)|
|Matt Hickman||(1, 1)|
|Jake Delillo||(1, 0)|
|Stephen Krasco||(1, 0)|
|Ryan Phillips||(1, 0)|
|Patrick Bonanno||(0, 1)|
|Ryan Finch||(0, 1)|
|Will Poletis||(0, 1)|
|Nick Fiorentino||14 (0.519)|