Nov. 21, 2009

By Bob Birge
Special to

After a four-year absence, the Salisbury field hockey team is headed back to the Division III national championship game.
Alison Bloodsworth scored the game’s only goal with just under 25 minutes remaining Saturday as the Sea Gulls defeated Tufts, 1-0, in a semifinal contest at Mount Holyoke College.
Tufts (Medford, Mass.) was without head coach Tina McDavitt, who missed the game after undergoing emergency appendectomy surgery Friday night. The Jumbos were coached by 23-year-old graduate assistant Dani Ryder.
A sophomore forward, Bloodsworth deflected a shot from Tara McGovern past Tufts goaltender Marianna Zak to propel the Sea Gulls into Sunday’s title game (1 p.m.) here against Messiah.
“I felt like at halftime we really needed to step up and we did (in the second half),” Bloodsworth said.
While Messiah is seeking its first hockey crown, Salisbury (Salisbury, Md.) will be after
its fifth. The Sea Gulls (19-1) captured their initial championship in 1986, then reeled off three in a row from 2003-05.
Sunday’s contest offers a matchup of a team that has never lost in the finals against one that never has won. Salisbury is 4-0 in the finals and Messiah 0-6.
Messiah handed Salisbury its only regular-season loss, a 3-2 overtime victory on September 19.  The Sea Gulls forced overtime in that contest on Bloodsworth’s goal with less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation.
“If we were going to be here in the national championship, that’s who we wanted to face again,” Salisbury coach Dawn Chamberlain said. “We’re looking forward to playing them. It’ll be two very different teams that played earlier in the season and I think it will be a very good matchup.”
With Salisbury and Tufts tied for the Division III lead in shutouts with 11, Saturday’s contest was expected to be a low-scoring affair. That exactly how a scoreless first half unfolded, with neither team generating much offense.
“It was a very different style of game for us,” Chamberlain added. “Tufts plays a very different zone and something we haven’t seen all year. We knew we were going to have to make some adjustments. It took us a little longer than I hoped making those adjustments  – pretty much the whole half before we were able to start generating some offense.”
Salisbury sophomore goaltender Anna Cooke posted her eighth shutout of the season, needing to make only two saves.
“I always like the game with as few shots as possible,” Cooke said. “That’s all I could ask for. My defense definitely stepped up in the game and helped me get the shutout.”
Midway through the first half, Tufts lost midfielder Margi Scholtes, the Jumbos’
best defender and the New England West Player of the Year, who suffered a dislocated finger on her right hand.  She spent the second half on the sideline but did not re-enter the game.
Also for Tufts, Tamara Brown, the New England Small Conference Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Player of the Year was limping noticeably after suffering a pulled hamstring injury in the Jumbos’ second-round victory over Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Brown was at less than 100 percent, further hampering Tufts’ chances of reaching the championship game for the second straight year. The Jumbos lost to Bowdoin, 3-2, in overtime in last year’s finals.
“I think we’re just really proud about how our girls played,” Ryder said. “They had a lot going against them this weekend. They came out, really gave it their all and left everything on the field. We couldn’t be prouder of them.”
“My hamstring was definitely bothering me and it doesn’t feel right,” Brown added. “(But) there was never a question that I was going to play this weekend. Obviously, it’s not ideal and it definitely impacted my game.’
The defenses continued to dominate in the second half until Bloodsworth found herself in the right place at the right time for her sixth goal of the season.
“I did all I could,” said Zak, who had little chance. “It was a really good goal.  I didn’t stop it.”
Tufts (18-2) suffered its first shutout since a 1-0 loss to Bowdoin in the championship game of last year’s NESCAC tournament.
NOTES – Kourtney Ehly’s hat trick in Saturday’s first game tied a NCAA Division III record for most goals in a championship round game. Bowdoin’s Lindsay McNamara accomplished the feat in a 4-3 championship game victory over Middlebury in 2007. Middlebury’s Heidi Howard also had a hat trick in a 4-1 semifinal win over Trinity in 1998.