Rochester Rallies to Top Ohio, Advance to MLL Finals
As both coach and general manager for the Rochester Rattlers, Tim Soudan's job involves making a lot of phone calls and watching a lot of video, especially when it comes to preparing for the draft.
Soudan did his homework in building the Rattlers over the last three-plus seasons, including a four-player rookie class this year with three productive attackmen and a long-stick midfielder. That new blood, a solid veteran core, and stout defense have the top-seeded Rattlers on the verge of their first Major League Lacrosse championship since 2008 after topping upstart Ohio, 15-11, in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon at Aquinas Institute's Wegmans Stadium in Rochester.
"We were talking at halftime about how important it is to have one more week together. That proves that the culture we created for this team is working and that they bought into it," said Soudan, a Fairport (suburban Rochester) resident, who won an NLL championship in 1997 with the Knighthawks and starred for the Rattlers in their early days. "It's just fantastic. My message to these guys in the locker room was we're right where we're supposed to be."
Those Rochester rookies — attackmen Jordan Wolf, Miles Thompson, and long-stick midfielder John LoCascio — combined for 5 goals, 5 assists, and 9 ground balls.
Rochester faces second-seeded Denver, a 14-13 winner over New York in the other semifinal, in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday at Kennesaw, Ga.
"It's a great thing for us, it's a great thing for Rochester," said Rochester long-stick midfielder Joel White. "We're happy to bring Rochester back there. This team has overcome a lot to be in this position."
|Kevin Leveille scored six times as Rochester advanced to the MLL finals with a comeback win over the Ohio Machine. (Greg Wall)|
Rochester, which went dormant after capturing the MLL title in 2008 and then returned in 2011, returned to the playoffs for the first time since winning the title.
In the early going, it looked like the Rattlers didn't belong on the same field as the Machine. Ohio won 10 of 16 faceoffs in the first half and built early leads of 4-0 and 6-2. Logan Schuss tallied two goals and two assists and Peter Baum and Marcus Holman each added two goals for the Machine in the first half.
"They did a nice job on the faceoffs. They won faceoffs and their defense buckled down in the second half," Ohio coach Bear Davis said. "They didn't give us a lot of looks. We were getting off-ball looks in the first half and we weren't getting those in the second half. We weren't shooting the ball quite as well. Typically when you win, it's a team win, and when you lose, it's a team loss. It's pretty much where we were."
Rochester closed to within 8-6 at halftime. The Rattlers rebounded in the second half. John Ortolani won 13 of 14 faceoffs and his wings — White and LoCascio — were outstanding. White scooped up 11 ground balls and LoCascio secured three ground balls.
"They beat us with the possessions," said Ohio defenseman Dana Wilber. "They got more ground balls. I think they outworked us a little bit. It's a shame to say that, but they just got more possessions than we did."
Co-captain Kevin Leveille scored five of his six goals in the second half for Rochester, which scored the final five goals of the game and held Ohio scoreless for the final 16-plus minutes.
"It doesn't seem like I had six goals throughout the game, but we were just chipping away," said Leveille. "I think all of them were assisted, so there were certainly great plays by the other guys and I was lucky enough to find the spots and get the shots on net tonight."
Rochester and Ohio were the resurgent stories around the MLL this season. Both teams added a ton of young talent, especially the Machine with the additions of LXM Pro Tour players Peter Baum and Kyle Harrison. Ohio went 4-24 over the previous two years.
"This is a great group of guys. They worked their tails off. They believed in each other," Davis said. "Our team president and GM John Algie, he had a vision for where wanted this team to be and he got the pieces together. It's been fun putting it together."
"The guys that have been here for three years, they've battled to get to this point," Wilber added. "All the credit goes out to them to stay with it. We brought in some good pieces this year and we all kind of molded and became a team around Week 8 and it was fun. It was fun lacrosse. It's sad to see it end like this."
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