BALTIMORE – As he prepared his Salisbury team to face Tufts on Sunday in the NCAA Division III championship game at M&T Bank Stadium, Sea Gulls head coach Jim Berkman downplayed the revenge factor. Last year, the Jumbos defeated the Sea Gulls, 9-6, to win their first NCAA Division III Championship.
“To me it didn’t matter who we played,” Berkman said. “You don’t care who you’re playing, you just want to make sure that when you walk out of the stadium at that night that you’ve given your best effort and you’ve played well because opportunity’s knocking. You’ve got to answer the door because you never know when it’s going to be there again.”
Actions, however, speak louder than words, and as the Sea Gulls stormed to a 19-7 victory against Tufts to win the ninth NCAA championship in program history, there was a definite message being sent.
“I’ve been waiting three years for this moment,” said junior midfielder Sam Bradman, who set a DIII championship record with seven goals and was named Most Outstanding Player. “We had a tough loss last year and had to get revenge this year. It means a hell of a lot to me.”
Bradman scored his record-setting seventh goal with 2:41 remaining in the fourth quarter to put the Sea Gulls up by 13 goals. The outcome of the game was never truly in doubt once Salisbury went to the locker room with a 9-3 halftime lead, but the Sea Gulls left their foot on the gas, as they played with a fierce determination to leave no doubt as to who had the better team.
“There was motivation every day in practice,” Bradman said. “We knew we had to come out and start firing. We didn’t really want to embarrass them or anything, but we knew we’d lost to them last year, and we needed to make a statement this year: the Gulls are back.”
The statement was made early and often in the first quarter, as Bradman opened the scoring 1:42 into the contest, and was followed by goals from Matt Cannone and Tony Mendes in the first five minutes. Then, after Tufts finally got on the board with 9:50 remaining in the opening frame, the Sea Gulls scored three more goals, including Bradman’s second, to close out the first quarter with a 6-1 lead.
“We knew they had a freshman goalie,” Bradman said, “so we knew we had to get on him quick. We knew he was on a big stage and we knew we had to break him early.”
For their part, the Jumbos took no issue with the way the Sea Gulls kept coming at them, focusing more on their own inability to stop Salisbury’s relentless attack.
“I don’t think it really mattered what we did last year,” senior attackman D.J. Hessler said. “They kept it coming, but that’s what they did. They deserved it. If they’re going to keep scoring, we have to stop them. There’s no reason to have mercy on us.”
Bradman, in particular, showed no mercy, launching 16 shots at the net over the course of the game. With each score, the junior’s confidence grew, until finally, he broke the championship game record, which former Sea Gull Sean Radebaugh owned a share of with his six goals in the 1995 win over Middlebury.
“It felt great,” Bradman said. “The ball just kept going into the net.”
In the end, Tufts coach Mike Daly was left with little to do other than salute Salisbury’s superlative effort.
“It’s simple,” Daly said. “Salisbury kicked our tails today. Our hats are off to them. They kicked our butts on face-offs. They kicked our butts scoring goals. They kicked our butts on defense when they got those chances. You can’t really break it down more than to take your hats off and keep getting up, which our kids kept doing. I’m really proud of their effort.
“I’m really proud that we never got chippy and out of ourselves. We continued to play Tufts lacrosse. We’re proud of that, and we just got beat by a better team today.”
While the Sea Gulls didn’t take their top offensive players out even as the scoring margin widened, an injury to senior goalkeeper Johnny Rodriguez did create an opportunity for Tim Swinburn, who played the final 12:35 of the game. Having gone through four years side-by-side with Swinburn, Rodriguez was happy to see the Swarthmore, Pa. native have a chance to shine on the biggest stage.
“That makes me just as happy as winning this championship today,” Rodriguez said. “He’s kind of a behind-the-scenes guy – you don’t get to see his work – but he played against Stevenson, played out of his mind…that was the best goalie performance I’ve ever seen. It was something special to see him get out there and make a couple of saves, get some ground balls.
Still, Rodriguez almost stole the spotlight back.
“I ran back in with about five minutes left,” Rodriguez said. “I thought we were only up by five or six goals, so I thought the game was still close, and Coach pulled me back out. I was like, ‘Why?’ I looked at the scoreboard and we were up by 12.”
While Rodriguez might have been confused as to the size of his team’s lead, he and his teammates made sure that there was no way of confusing this year’s game between the Sea Gulls and Jumbos with last year’s NCAA championship encounter.
“I thought we were much more prepared this year than we were last year,” Rodriguez said. “We had a great game plan. We played well defensively and even better offensively.”
And now, Rodriguez and his fellow Sea Gull seniors can fly off as champions.