By Zach Gilleland
The No. 2 Salisbury University field hockey team lives to play another day after grinding out a gutsy 1-0 win over Ursinus College Sunday in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Both schools came into the game looking to build off impressive winning streaks. The Bears (17-5) came in winners of seven in a row, including a 2-1 win over Trinity (Conn.) on Saturday.
The Sea Gulls (18-1) came in riding a 13 game winning streak after defeating Kenyon 3-0 Saturday to advance into the third round. During the stretch, the Salisbury defense allowed only five goals.
A physical matchup, 149 fouls were called during the game. Both coaches were intent on letting their starters determine the outcome as both teams only made one substitution each.
A defensive battle, the teams had trouble breaking the last lines of defense. The offenses traded possessions early in the first half, trying to set the tone.
The Sea Gulls tried to put the nerves of Saturday’s win behind them. After trading possession, Salisbury attacked on offense, creating pressure on Ursinus sophomore goalie Jules Singer.
But Singer and the Bears’ defense did not budge, stopping chances and keeping the ball out of the goal.
Salisbury created shot opportunities but couldn’t find the back of the net. The Sea Gulls could not take advantage of 10 penalty corners and seven shots with only one shot on goal.
But with the game scoreless at halftime, the Sea Gulls did control the game offensively.
“We talked [at halftime] about staying in the game plan we had because it was working,” SU Head Coach Dawn Chamberlin said. “We were dominating but we just weren’t putting the ball down.”
Ursinus started its attack early in the second half, but its chances were thwarted by a stingy Sea Gull defense.
At the 44-minute mark off a Salisbury penalty corner, junior forward Natalie Wilkinson found freshman back Arielle Johnston. Unlike previous efforts, Johnston found an open lane, firing the ball on the lower-left corner of the goal, giving the Sea Gulls a 1-0 lead.
“I think we came out a lot better than we did Saturday, we had a lot of energy, a good intensity and we stuck to our game plan,” Chamberlin said. “We’re very persistent, things weren’t dropping for us in the first half but we knew if we stayed after it and continued to do the things we were doing well and stepped up a little bit we were going to get a goal.”
With under 10 minutes to go in the game, the Bears’ offense threatened again. Off a penalty corner, Salisbury junior goalie Tressie Windsor saved a long shot, and then great defensive efforts by Wilkinson and senior midfielder Hannah Miller kept the ball out of the circle.
Down a goal with a minute left and its season on the line, Ursinus led an all-out effort on offense. With their goalie pulled, the Bears had the numbers game on the Sea Gull defense.
With only seconds remaining, junior forward Brooke Overly had an open shot off a penalty corner. Overly fired it on the net, but a kick save by Windsor preserved the lead for Salisbury, and Sea Gull defenders cleared it out of the circle as time expired.
“We really had a hard time clearing the ball,” Windsor said. “But everyone played really low and we tried to keep our composure the best we could and we got the job done.”
The Salisbury bench poured onto the field in celebration and fans at Sea Gull Stadium led a ‘Final Four’ chant, congratulating the team on its hard-fought victory.
Even with the high intensity and emotions of the final minute, the Salisbury defense was prepared. Senior back Annah Brittingham said the team practices these situations.
“In practice we always work on a drill called ‘chaos’ which in the last minute you would say it’s a little chaotic,” Brittingham said. “We worked on it time and time again but that’s what Coach Chamberlin is for and she prepared us for it.”
What lasted only a few minutes felt like an eternity for Coach Chamberlin.
“It’s tough when they’re pressing like that and we’re having a tough time getting it out and getting it cleared it seems like it lasts forever,” Chamberlin said. “When Ursinus got a [penalty corner] in the final minute your heart is in your throat. But we got a great clear from Tressie [Windsor] and the defense to save the day.”
A bright spot for the offense over the past few games has been sophomore forward Kristen Yingling. After starting in place of a sick Wilkinson in the Capital Athletic Conference tournament semifinal game against York, Yingling has used her speed and quickness to create opportunities for the Sea Gulls, scoring three goals and dishing out four assists.
“It’s been so great to get this opportunity to play more,” Yingling said. “I feel like I did step up knowing my teammates needed me.”
With the win, Salisbury advances to the NCAA Tournament semifinal in Geneva, N.Y. The Sea Gulls will take on No. 3 Tufts (18-2) Nov. 19 at 2 p.m.