August 22, 2010

Bayhawks Beat Lizards for MLL Crown

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Championship Game Blog

Chesapeake goalkeeper Chris Garrity hoists the Steinfeld Cup in celebration of the Bayhawks' 13-9 victory over the Long Island Lizards in the MLL championship game Sunday.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

* Coaching Change Pays Off
* Last Original Lizard Likely to Retire

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Four months ago, Spencer Ford and Stephen Berger sat opposite each other on a picnic bench outside US Lacrosse in Baltimore. Nearby, the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse team conducted an April practice on Homewood Field.

Ford sized up Berger, the nimble midfielder for the Long Island Lizards, who had struggled following a knee surgery in 2009 but felt great coming into 2010.

“You look good,” Ford said. “You look like you’re in good shape.”

Berger nodded, said thank you, and asked how Ford’s new gig as the general manager of the Chesapeake Bayhawks was going.

“It’s going good, man,” Ford said. “We got a lot of talent. I feel like it’s going to be the Lizards and Bayhawks in the championship -- like the old days.”

Ford’s prophecy proved true and then some Sunday, as the Bayhawks defeated the Lizards, 13-9, in the Major League Lacrosse championship game before an announced 6,445 fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The win cemented a remarkable turnaround for a Chesapeake team whose midsummer swoon led to the firing of former head coach John Tucker. Team president Brendan Kelly took the reins. The Bayhawks lost five straight games before winning their last two to qualify for the playoffs on a 6-6 regular season record.

They upset top-seeded Boston with a staunch defensive effort in the MLL semifinals Saturday. Berger did his part to prove Ford right with five goals in Long Island’s semifinal upset of second-seeded Denver.

“It couldn’t be a better rivalry: Maryland against Long Island,” said Ford, who played for both the Bayhawks and Lizards during his MLL playing career. With tongue in cheek, he added, “And of course Maryland comes out on top.”

That was no certainty Sunday.

Long Island jumped to a 2-0 lead midway through the first quarter on goals by midfielder Keith Cromwell and attackman Zack Greer. Cromwell scored left-handed on an invert play from behind on the first goal and fed Greer on a nifty pick-and-slip play for the second goal, which Greer sent into the top shelf on a submarine shot.

The Bayhawks took advantage of Lizards turnovers to tie the game at 2, backed by midfielder Ben Hunt’s goal on a give-and-go and sidestep from the left alley and then attackman Danny Glading’s hitch fake and finish to beat Long Island goalkeeper Drew Adams at the 3:51 mark of the first quarter.

But the Lizards used another two-goal run to bridge the first and second quarters. Midfielders Stephen Peyser and Chris Fiore scored in a 10-plus minute span to put Long Island up 4-2.

Several more Long Island opportunities were thwarted by Chesapeake goalkeeper Chris Garrity, who made eight of his 10 saves in the first half. Garrity’s big game came on the heels of an 18-save performance in the Bayhawks’ semifinal victory over the Cannons.

“Chris Garrity was the best I’ve ever seen him in 10 years,” Ford said.

Chesapeake rewarded Garrity with two unanswered goals to tie the game at 4 before halftime. First, Glading capitalized on a breakdown of the Long Island defense to score unassisted at the 5:02 mark of the second quarter. Midfielder Peet Poillon, the MLL’s most improved player, then finished a sweet feed from attackman Ben Rubeor with an even sweeter around-the-world goal in front of the cage less than two minutes later.

Faceoff specialist Alex Smith infused more momentum in the third quarter by scoring off his own draw just six seconds in, giving the Bayhawks their first lead of the game at 5-4.

Long Island tied it at 5 on a power play goal by Greer, the recipient of a long feed from attackman Matt Danowski outside the arc. Danowski went low as if he was going to shoot and froze the Bayhawks defense, finding Greer on the crease at the 12:14 mark of the third quarter.

Chesapeake responded with a power play goal of its own from midfielder Brian Carroll, who deposited a Rubeor crease feed shortly after his own penalty -- stemming from an altercation with Lizards defenseman Brian Spallina -- was released.

Carroll’s goal gave the Bayhawks a short-lived, 6-5 lead. Long Island faceoff man Greg Gurenlian bulldozed through Smith and the Lizards’ defense to score off the ensuing draw just six seconds later to tie it at 6.

Midfielder Kyle Dixon, a sleeping giant in these playoffs after being held scoreless against Boston and in the first half of Sunday’s final, broke through for his first goal to put Chesapeake up 7-6 with 6:10 left in the third quarter.

It took Long Island less than two minutes to respond, however, tying it at 7 on a goal by long stick John Orsen and retaking the lead on a Peyser goal that made it 8-7 at the 4:16 mark.

Tempers flared late in the third quarter when Lizards long stick Ricky Pages took two penalties for harassing Dixon. Though the Bayhawks could not convert on the power play, they wore the Long Island defense down enough to set up a Rubeor-to-Poillon, around-the-world goal that was almost identical to the earlier one. That tied the game at 8 with 44.9 seconds left in the third quarter.

It was all Chesapeake in the fourth quarter. Dixon found Carroll for a power play goal with 12:09 remaining and then put the Bayhawks up by two with a blast of his own 54 seconds later.

“Penalties made a difference,” Lizards coach Jim Mule said. “A couple turnovers and a couple of lost faceoffs all at the same time led to them having several opportunities in a row, and they cashed in.”

Rookie Michael Kimmel made it a three-goal lead on a long-range bullet that appeared to catch Adams off guard as he fell backwards.

Kimmel then found Carroll for the proverbial dagger, a right-handed shot that hit Adams so hard he again fell backward into the cage as the ball crossed the goal line. It put the Bayhawks out of reach at 12-8 with 7:03 remaining.

Cromwell cut the lead to three on a power play goal from just inside the two-point arc, but Poillon would seal it for the Bayhawks with less than two minutes left for the final margin.

Chesapeake’s balanced offensive showing included strong efforts from Virginia products Dixon (2g, 3a), Carroll (3g), Glading (2g) and Rubeor (3a). Four of Dixon’s five points came in the second half.

“I had a better matchup and knew I needed to turn it up in the third and fourth quarters for us to win,” he said. “I just took advantage of that. They were coming to me so I could create and let these other guys finish.”

Glading roomed with Carroll, the only member of the Cavaliers contingent who did not win an NCAA title during his time in Charlottesville, at the team’s hotel in Annapolis.

“He told me he hasn’t won a championship since he was 12. I couldn’t believe that,” Glading said.

All four players became closer as a result of the scrutiny their alma mater has come under in the Yeardley Love murder case against former Cavaliers lacrosse player George Huguely.

“It’s been a crazy year, but it brought the whole community very tight together,” Glading said. “We’re getting through it together. It’s amazing to see a group of young men come together and hold each other up during a tough time.”

Smith finished 15-of-26 on faceoffs and was particularly strong late, helping the Bayhawks secure their third Steinfeld Cup. All three of their MLL championship game victories have come over the Lizards.

Cromwell paced Long Island with two goals and two assists. Greer added two goals. Danowski, a runner-up in the MLL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year voting, was held to just one assist.

Chesapeake won the title as the playoffs’ fourth seed, a year removed from a 5-7 season, the fourth straight in which the Bayhawks failed to even qualify for postseason play. Ford credited Kelly.

“We were going off and on, off and on with what we should do and where we were taking this organization. Bottom line, we feel like we made the right choice and Brendan Kelly was the right guy for this job – as the president and coach,” Ford said. “What he brings with his words is unmatched by anybody. When you win the championship, of course you’re right. If we would have lost, we would have been wrong.”

For Ford, being right felt good Sunday.


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