OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The No. 2 Salisbury University women's lacrosse team overcame its first second-half deficit of the season, scoring with just over eight minutes to play, breaking a 7-7 tie, collecting an 8-7 victory over No. 3 Middlebury College in the NCAA Division III semifinals on Saturday. The win sends Salisbury to its sixth national championship appearance in program history, where the Sea Gulls will face Trinity (Conn.) College, on Sunday at noon.
Trinity topped the State University of New York at Cortland, 8-6, in the other semifinal on Saturday, setting up a rematch of last year's national championship game, which the Bantams won, 8-7.
"After losing a national championship, anytime you're doing anything, in the back of your head you are right back there," Salisbury senior Lauren Feusahrens said after Saturday's win. "I think that we knew our goal and I think we did a really good job this year taking it one game at a time, respecting every opponent and not overlooking anyone. We didn't rely on talent, we relied on heart."
That heart is what allowed Salisbury (22-0) to battle back from its first halftime deficit of the season. Trailing 5-3, the Sea Gulls rallied to tie the game over the first 5:10 of the second half, and took their first lead of the second half with 21:29 left.
Sophomore Kate Haker set up at the left post, and put home the first Salisbury goal of the second half, taking a feed from senior Katie Bollhorst across the crease. The game became tied when Bollhorst hit Feusahrens in front of the cage for the equalizer, tying the game at 5-5.
"I think at that point we needed momentum," Bollhorst said. She finished with five assists on the day to lead all players with five points. "Coming out we knew that our defense was doing their job the entire first half. And we knew if we were going to come out on top we needed to do our part, and I think that started with the draw controls. We needed to finish the opportunities Middlebury gave us and I think we did that."
Middlebury (18-3) won eight of nine draw controls in the first half, but Salisbury was able to turn the tides in the second, claiming five of eight.
Senior Maggie Roundy gave the Gulls the lead just a few moments later, off another Bollhorst assist. Roundy found a space in front of Middlebury keeper Alyssa Polomba, took the feed from Bollhorst, made one fake and planted the go-ahead goal in the top-left corner, for a 6-5 edge.
But the lead would last just over three minutes before Margaret Souther would cut down the middle, holding off a Salisbury defender, and slipping the tying goal under Salisbury goalkeeper Ashton Wheatley, tying the game at 6-6, with 18 minutes left.
Feusahrens came down the left wing, to give Salisbury a 7-6 lead, before things drew even again on Liza Herzog goal, off a rebound to knot the game at 7-7 with 9:09 left in the game.
But, 37 seconds later, Salisbury junior Shelby Nemecek streaked down the middle, making a move past a Middlebury defender and planting the game winner in the lower-right corner.
From that point, it was all about the Salisbury defense. Sophomore Bethany Baer reached out to pick off a Middlebury pass behind the cage with six minutes left, ending a threat.
Wheatley turned away one of the strongest Panther threats a minute and a half later, stopping Laurel Pascal, and three seconds later, following Middlebury grabbing the rebound, Wheatley stuffed Emma Kramer.
The saves were Wheatley's 11th and 12th of the day, which set a new career high for the junior, who also caused three turnovers and scooped up five ground balls.
"Going into this game I thought it was going to be really mental," Wheatley said. "I have faith in every single girl in front of me. Even when we were down I still thought we had control of the game. Surprisingly, I wasn't nervous today, even when we were down."
Salisbury would gain possession on a turnover caused by Feusahrens, with 2:09 left, and the Gulls never gave the ball up, until the final horn.
Salisbury jumped out to the early lead in the game, with senior Kara Koolage getting the opening score off a feed from Roundy. Roundy found Koolage coming across the front of the crease, four yards in front of Polomba. Koolage grabbed the pass and put the first tally in for the 1-0 advantage.
The teams traded goals with Feusahrens scoring Salisbury's second goal and Bollhorst hooking up with Baer on a tally to push the Gulls ahead 3-2. But it was a 3-0 Middlebury burst in the closing 11:20 which gave the Panthers the two-goal cushion at halftime.