In a year when the Stevenson men's lacrosse team had already achieved its first 20-win season, it only seemed fitting that the Mustangs would get to enjoy another breakthrough: their first trip to the national title game.
Senior attackman Tyler Reid and junior attackman Chris Dashiell each scored three goals to help No. 4 Stevenson overwhelm No. 12 and reigning national champion Salisbury, 12-6, in an NCAA tournament semifinal Sunday night.
An announced 2,311 at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills — the largest crowd to watch a lacrosse game at the facility — witnessed the Mustangs improve to 21-2, collect their 11th straight victory, and snap a 0-3 record in the Final Four. More importantly, they will meet Rochester Institute of Technology on May 26 at 4 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The No. 3 Tigers (19-2) edged top-ranked SUNY-Cortland (19-1), 10-9, in overtime earlier Sunday. Stevenson nipped RIT, 12-11, in overtime on Feb. 27 as both schools aim for their first national title.
"It means everything to me," senior midfielder Nick Rossi said before his voice began to quiver with emotion. "That's the whole reason I came back. I can't even it put it into words, to be honest with you. I was just in the locker room, just so emotional."
The Mustangs overpowered the Sea Gulls, who failed to advance to the tournament final for only the second time in the past 11 years. Stevenson scored nine goals in the first half, marking the first time Salisbury had surrendered that many goals in the opening two periods since April 23, 2011 when the Mustangs ran up a 12-8 advantage at halftime.
But unlike that contest when the Sea Gulls outscored Stevenson, 7-0, in the third quarter en route to a 16-14 comeback, there would be no heroics for Salisbury as the offense could muster just three goals in the second half.
"Hopping onto them early like that has a lot to do with our entire season," Reid said. "We learned from a lot of mistakes that we had, and throughout the year, we've just got to keep getting better. That's what's showing now."
Stevenson struck early and often, sprinting to a 3-0 advantage. Sophomore attackman Mark Pannenton put the Mustangs on the scoreboard just 1 minute, 33 seconds into the game when he deflected Sea Gulls junior goalkeeper Alex Taylor's outlet pass, collected the ground ball, and underhanded a shot past Taylor (game-high nine saves).
With 7:28 left in the first quarter, Rossi outran freshman short-stick defensive midfielder Preston Dabbs down the right alley and bounced the ball into the left side of the net.
Senior midfielder Peter Green capped the spurt when he one-timed a centering pass from sophomore attackman Pat Candon with 6:30 remaining.
Salisbury ended the drought when freshman attackman Brady Dashiell took a pass from junior attackman Rhett DePol and curled around the right post to beat freshman goalie Dimitri Pecunes (seven stops) with 4:00 left in the first quarter.
But the Mustangs scored twice in a span of 23 seconds. Candon ran junior defenseman Josh Martin off a screen set by sophomore attackman Mark Pannenton behind the cage, curled around the left post, and beat Taylor high with 2:07 remaining. Rossi then nailed a jump-shot blast from the right point with 1:44 left to give Stevenson a 5-1 lead.
The Sea Gulls showed some life in the second quarter, getting goals from Dashiell and DePol within a 64-second span to cut the lead to 5-3.
But the Mustangs ran off four unanswered goals — Chris Dashiell with 9:44 left, Dashiell again at 6:06, senior attackman Tyler Reid at 3:14 and Dashiell again at 6.5 seconds — to enjoy a 9-3 advantage at halftime.
Brady Dashiell paced Salisbury with four points on three goals and one assist, and DePol added four points on one goal and three assists, but the Sea Gulls (17-6) could not replicate their comeback from a 5-1 deficit in a quarterfinal 11-9 win against No. 2 Dickinson.
"We definitely dug ourselves a hole at the beginning of the game — sort of like what we did on Wednesday," coach Jim Berkman said. "We were kind of fighting an uphill battle, but we didn't have enough to get over the edge a couple times."
RIT 10, SUNY Cortland 9: Allister Warren scored on a hidden-ball trick with 1:55 left in overtime, giving the visiting Tigers (19-2) an upset of the top-seeded and previously undefeated Red Dragons (19-1).
RIT, which led 5-1 at halftime, will play for the NCAA Division III national title for the first time in program history.
On the decisive play, Warren and Taylor Wisman crossed at the top of the box. Warren appeared to flip the ball to Wisman but kept it. Cortland goalie Mike Kaminski followed Wisman, allowing Warren to fire a shot into the open net.
Eddie Kiesa, Jack Krzyston and Kyle Aquin each had two goals for the Tigers, while Wisman finished with three assists. Joe Slavik led Cortland with three goals.