Backup Goalie's Heroics Spark Salisbury Comeback; Sea Gulls Beat Stevenson for CAC Title
Salisbury backup goalie Tim Swinburn, who earned the CAC championship game victory in a 16-14 comeback win over No. 1 Stevenson, turns aside a shot by Mustangs attackman Jimmy Dailey.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Salisbury backup goaltender Tim Swinburn emerged from the post-game celebratory mob surrounding him with just a few teammates hanging behind near midfield to give extra congratulations. One of them was starting goalie Johnny Rodriguez, his close friend -- "best friends," both of them said later -- Ocean City summer housemate, and you couldn't avoid it, the player Swinburn replaced midway through the second quarter.
"I just played, man," Swinburn matter-of-factly told Rodriguez, while the usual starter and All-American patted his college career backup on his yellow helmet for a career-best 12-save, two-and-a-half quarter performance. The effort sparked third-ranked Salisbury to a 16-14 comeback win over host and top-ranked Stevenson in the Capital Athletic Conference championship game Saturday afternoon.
"That's three years of excitement just all let out in one game," Rodriguez said of Swinburn's game a few minutes later, speaking from experience of knowing his friend's mindset and his itch to play regularly over the past three seasons. "I mean, you think of me as a three-year starter, All-American, whatever, that I would comfortable with my starting spot. But this kid has been on my back throughout my entire three years here. He's just as good a goalie as I am. And I'm sure he'd be a top goalie in the country, too, if he had the chance. He proved it today. I've never seen a better goalie performance than he had today."
Salisbury head coach Jim Berkman, heeding the advice of goaltender coach Erik Miller, pulled Rodriguez for what he said he thought was only the second time in his college career after Stevenson went up 11-7 with 7:08 remaining in the second quarter. A fast-break bounce shot by Mustangs faceoff man Ray Witte had just gone in for the 18th goal combined by both teams in the game's first 22 minutes.
"You get to that point you have to try something," Berkman said, noting that the defense as a whole wasn't playing well and allowed soft, easy goals inside. "When I brought Johnny out, I was thinking possibly he comes back in. He just needed a couple minutes to regroup. But then Timmy got hot, and you go with the hot hand."
Swinburn is a senior, like Rodriguez, who arrived at Salisbury nearly four years ago via Strath Haven (Pa.) High School outside Philadelphia, where he was a US Lacrosse All-American as a senior there. But Swinburn had only played sparingly as a college backup, with just one win to his name. This made him an unlikely hero Saturday to help the Sea Gulls (16-1) win the conference, avenge a 16-12 loss last week to Stevenson and earn an automatic berth into the NCAA men's Division III postseason tournament.
After allowing a goal on the first shot he saw, Swinburn settled in and the Salisbury defense buttoned up in front of him, Berkman said. The coach said the defense didn't allow the types of easy, close-range goals off pick plays that it did in the first half. Salisbury limited Stevenson (16-2) to one transition goal in the second half.
The Sea Gulls' also put a short-stick defender on Stevenson midfielder Neal Barthelme, who scored five first-half goals, but only had one more (with 30 seconds left in the game) the rest of the way. Swinburn had four saves in the final seven minutes of the first half and had seven second-half stops.
Salisbury overcame a five-goal deficit, outscored Stevenson 7-0 in the third quarter, and took its first lead, 13-12, with 2:07 left in the third quarter on a play started by a Swinburn. On a clear attempt, he stood patiently near midfield for what seemed like 10 seconds, waiting for a man to become open in the gaggle of players. Dean Rossi finally did on the backside. Swinburn tossed it to Rossi, who fed Tony Mendes (five goals) on the crease for a fastbreak score.
Later, with Salisbury leading 16-13 with about four minutes left in regulation, Swinburn made a save and came out to start a clear. He was pushed in the back, which drew a penalty. Someone on the Sea Gulls' sideline -- evidently impressed with the goalie's performance since entering -- simply yelled "Swin-burn" while Sean Calabrese headed to the penalty box. It could have been Johnny Rodriguez doing the yelling.
"Obviously, I was frustrated when I came out," Rodriguez said. "I broke my shaft over my knee, but there's nothing better than to come back and have a 7-0 third quarter and pull out the victory at Stevenson right here, in my senior year for the CAC championship. It's his senior year, too."
Swinburn is a lefty and Rodriguez a righty, a difference that may have helped the cause Saturday because Stevenson players needed to adjust shot placement, Swinburn said. But what also helped was the fact that the two watched film together during the week to scout and prepare for talented Stevenson offensive players such as Jimmy Dailey, Richie Ford and Barthelme. Many of Swinburn's early saves were on low shots that he anticipated well.
"Honestly, I've been waiting for this opportunity for three years now," Swinburn said. "Coach always tells me to be ready, so I've just been working hard, hitting the wall, getting out there early for practice, just mentally preparing myself. He just happened to call my name, and I guess it all paid off.
"The first shot I saw, Barthelme (six goals, one assist) stuck it right over my stick. That kid's got a rip. That was a little shaky at first, but after the first couple saves after that, I starting gaining confidence, and from there on out, I just played well."
He played well enough for Berkman to throw out the plan of having Rodriguez re-enter the game.
"When I came off, he originally pulled me and told me to get ready, he was going to give me five minutes and I would be back in there," Rodriguez said. "Just to clear everything out of my head. Just go in with a fresh start. But 'Swin' just made a couple of sick saves, right to start out with, and he was hot, so going into the second half, obviously the coaches wanted to stick with him."
If the post-game situation and reaction from Rodriguez in response to questions about the player who replaced seems unique, it was. Rodriquez and Swinburn have a close relationship, along with freshman Alex Taylor and sophomore Mitch Meredith. They call themselves the "COG," an acronym for "Coalition of Goaltenders."
Two of them were called into action Saturday.
"That's the good thing about having two senior goalies," Swinburn said. "You keep pushing each other. I feel like I've pushed Johnny to become a better goalie, and I feel like he's done the same for me."
Notes and quotes
Stevenson had 13 extra-man scoring opportunities and scored just two EMO goals. Amazingly five EMO chances came in the third-quarter in which the Mustangs were held scoreless... Barthelme, on his first goal of the game, set the Stevenson single-season record for goals in a season with 60, breaking the record set by current teammate Richie Ford in 2008. Barthelme, a senior midfielder, now has 66 career goals ... Berkman said junior midfielder Sam Bradman (three goals) played Saturday at about 80-percent capacity because of a nagging ankle injury. He put the same percentage on junior defensive midfielder Dean Rossi, who is playing on a severely sprained ankle. Berkman also said faceoff man Tyler Granelli (13-for-29) is nursing a groin injury that needs to be rested for about a week. "We need to get healthy," Berkman said. The Sea Gulls will have time to do that. Their next game, the annual "War on the Shore" against Washington College, is not for another two weeks on May 7 ... Stevenson's next game is Saturday at Denison.