ASHLAND, Va. – The No. 7 Salisbury University women's lacrosse team is moving on to the national championship game. The Sea Gulls defeated No. 4 Tufts University, 14-11, in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament on Saturday afternoon, advancing to the national championship for the first time since 2014.
"I thought today was a great game," Head Coach Jim Nestor said. "Our offense really followed through on our game plan; being smart with the ball, taking time, wearing down their defense. Defensively, when you look at the stats, I thought we did great. We played one of our best games defensively. I'm just very proud of them."
Tufts (19-3) opened the scoring just 35 seconds in on a free-position goal, which would be the first of four free-position goals in the first half. The Sea Gulls (20-3) responded less than a minute later as Alexis Strobel found Gabby Mongno, who was able to find the back of the net on a tough angle as she got hit.
Strobel then found Gianna Demato in front of the net, who buried a shot for the 2-1 lead at the 27:43 mark. Courtney Fegan put Salisbury up by two, cutting down the middle and receiving a pass from Lindsey Wagner, finishing off the one-timer.
The Jumbos put an end to the 3-0 Salisbury run with another free-position goal with just under 20 minutes to play in the first half, making the score 3-2.
Demato notched her second of the game with 17:13 on the clock, beating her defender behind the net and faking out the goalie to put Salisbury back up by two. Tufts answered with an unassisted goal just 16 seconds later, though, pulling back within one.
Fegan tallied her second of the half, converting on a free-position goal midway through the first frame, giving the Sea Gulls a 5-3 lead. The Jumbos kept the back-and-forth scoring going, cutting the deficit to one once again on their third free-position goal of the first half.
Strobel recorded her third assist of the first half, finding Wagner in front of the net to put Salisbury up 6-4 with just under nine minutes to go, but Tufts once again scored on a free-position shot to make it 6-5.
Salisbury was then able to take advantage of two yellow cards against Tufts, with Taylor Poore finding Emma Skoglund in the middle, who was able to fire home a shot. Lydia McNulty joined the scoring action, finishing off a pass in front of the net from Wagner with 3:14 to go in the first half, giving the Sea Gulls an 8-5 lead.
Tufts pulled back within two on a goal less than a minute later, making the score 8-6 heading into halftime.
The Jumbos began the second half just as they did the first with a quick goal, this one coming 1:16 in to pull within one, 8-7. The Sea Gulls responded just as they did in the first as well, as Strobel found Mongno for her second of the day.
Strobel then did it on her own, coming from behind the net and scoring an unassisted goal to push the Salisbury lead to 10-7.
Skoglund gave the Sea Gulls their largest lead of the day midway through the second half, scoring on a point-blank shot after receiving a pass from Mongno. Skoglund then made it a hat trick, faking out the defense and scoring on an assist from McNulty to give the maroon and gold a 12-7 advantage.
After going nearly 19 minutes of game action without a goal, the Jumbos finally got back on the board with just under 10 minutes remaining in regulation.
Poore put Salisbury back up five on the team's second free-position goal of the day before Tufts scored on a man-up goal with 5:59 to play to make it 13-9.
Skoglund notched her fourth goal of the game on a highlight reel play, reaching up to catch a pass from Strobel and finishing off the one-timer. Strobel's fifth assist of the game moved her into a tie for second place in program history in single-season assists with 72.
Tufts converted on two more free-position shots to pull within three, 14-11, with 33 seconds remaining, but it wasn't enough as Salisbury held on to advance to the national championship game.
Skye Graham made six saves in net to earn the win. She added a game-high eight groundballs and two caused turnovers.
"I harp on trying to be an active goalie and I try to help my defenders out the best I can because they're out there busting their butt," Graham said. "I have my little circle, my house, but I really try to get out of that and help them out and come up with turnovers as best I can because they deserve it, my offense deserves it, and I think turnovers are really what came up big today."
Salisbury will take on No. 3 Middlebury College in the national championship game on Sunday, May 26. The Sea Gulls and Panthers will square off at Day Field on the campus of Randolph-Macon College at 2 p.m.
"Middlebury is a very good team, so we have to come out tomorrow with a game plan and as long as we execute it we'll just see what happens after that," Skoglund said.