SALISBURY, Md. -- Salisbury has punched its ticket to the national semifinals, earning a 4-1 win against Wellesley in the NCAA Division III tournament's third round on Sunday at Sea Gull Stadium.
The Sea Gulls will play in the national semifinals at the USA Field Hockey Training Center in Virginia Beach, Va., on Friday, taking on Skidmore, which defeated Middlebury 3-2 on Sunday.
The trip to the championship weekend is the 12th in program history, most recent being when the Sea Gulls won the national title in 2009. It ends a string of three consecutive years where Salisbury's season has ended during the regional weekend.
"It's been hanging over me for a while because the last couple years we've outplayed teams and not been able to finish and this year we told the players, 'You've got to finish and you've got to finish early and you've got to get points on the board. We can't let this come down to the wire, we've got to make it very deliberate and very distinctive from the start,' and we did that," Salisbury head coach Dawn Chamberlin said. "We got numbers on the board and we didn't let up."
Salisbury (16-3) was led in Sunday's win by sophomore forward Samantha Johnson, who factored in all four goals, including tallying her first-career hat trick.
Johnson got the scoring started in the 13th minute, setting up shop at the left post, after inserting one of Salisbury's five penalty corners in the contest. The ball worked around to the right side before freshman Hannah Miller sent a cross in front of the cage. Johnson collected the ball near the left post and fired it home for the 1-0 advantage.
Five minutes later, Wellesley (18-4) nearly tied the match when Anissa Sridhar slipped a ball through the defense to Hannah Flesch, on the right side of the goal. Flesch took a quick shot that just traveled wide left, allowing the Gulls to double their lead to 2-0 eight minutes later.
Senior back Katie Hastings threaded a 30-yard pass through the Wellesley defense, finding a streaking Johnson on the right side of the cage. Johnson turned and put a shot inside the left edge of the goal for the 2-0 lead.
Hastings and the Salisbury defense and midfield, led by junior Summer Washburn, sophomore Amanda Cooper and freshman Alexis Carroll, limited most of the Blue's chances in the first half, allowing just four shots, but Salisbury goalkeeper Rachel Clewer was there to turn away all four offerings.
Salisbury took the 2-0 lead to the second half. Johnson quickly finished off her hat trick, less than four minutes after the break. She took control of the ball in Salisbury's defensive end and dribbled 60 yards down the field, weaving through Wellesley defenders before getting past Blue goalkeeper Brit Mscisz and sliding the ball into the open cage.
Johnson also added to her team-leading assist count in the game later in the half. This time, Johnson dribbled the ball down the right sideline, getting through four Blue defenders, carrying the ball into the right corner before firing a cross in front of the cage where junior Mallory Elliott was waiting to finish with a one-timer for a 4-0 lead and Johnson's 13th assist of the season.
"She is the most unselfish player we have," Chamberlin said of Johnson. "She's always playing to make the pass and that's one of the reasons why she doesn't have so many goals, because she could shoot all the time, but she's always looking for her teammates to set them up and she does a great job of doing that. She does a great job of carrying the ball down the field, she knows how to put it in scoring position and today we were fortunate we had people there to put it home."
Wellesley had its best chances in the second half, being awarded 11 of its 14 opportunities in the final 35 minutes, but Clewer and the Salisbury defense would stand strong, allowing just one tally. In the 68th minute, Nikki Sharkin fired home a blast from the left side following Courtney Peterson's insert.
Salisbury held an 18-12 edge in shots in the game, but saw the Blue hold an advantage in penalty corners, 14-5 -- just the fifth time this season that Salisbury has been at a deficit in that category.