It’s been another roller coaster season for the Chesapeake Bayhawks with thrilling wins and heartbreaking losses. Through it all, there has been one constant – great crowds at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Team owner Brendan Kelly said attendance for home games this season has reached an all-time high and is extremely thankful the community has rallied around and supported the Bayhawks.
The Bayhawks will salute their loyal supporters during the final game of the Major League Lacrosse regular season. It will be “Fan Appreciation Night” when Chesapeake hosts Denver at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday night in Annapolis. There will be discounted merchandise, special events, fun prizes and awesome giveaways as Chesapeake celebrates another successful season of professional lacrosse.
There are two unique promotions being held in conjunction with Thursday’s game. “Women Who Wine” night offers a wine tasting, light pairings and a complimentary Bayhawks wine glass along with a game ticket for $40. Meanwhile, the “Dog Days of Summer” event invites fans to bring their four-legged friends to the game. There will be a special canine section behind the north end zone that will include water stations and waste bags.
Of course, the best way for the Bayhawks to show appreciation for their die-hard fans is to beat the Outlaws in order to go out on a winning note. Chesapeake (6-7) has been eliminated from the playoffs by the narrowest of margins, but has a chance to finish .500 and carry positive momentum into the off-season.
Chesapeake could possibly finish in a tie for fourth place in Major League Lacrosse, but cannot earn one of four postseason berths through the various tiebreaker scenarios. Last season, the Bayhawks finished in a seven-way tie for first place and did not get into the playoffs.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating to miss the playoffs. That being said, I still feel like we’re one of the best teams in the league,” Chesapeake Head Coach Brian Reese said. “We have a very young team with a lot of potential. We will keep this core group together and I think the future will be very bright for the Bayhawks.”
Chesapeake showcased an emerging star in attackman Josh Byrne, who enters the season finale with a chance to set the MLL rookie record for goals. The third-round draft pick out of Hofstra has scored 32 goals, two shy of the record set by Florida Launch attackman Kieran McArdle in 2014.
“Josh has proven he is a special player with an incredible knack for putting the ball in the back of the net,” Reese said.
Midfielder Jake Froccaro from Villanova, the team’s first round selection in the 2017 MLL Collegiate Draft, has shown he can score from long range with most of his 11 goals coming on wicked crank shots from just inside the 2-point arc.
Meanwhile, midfielder Myles Jones firmly established himself as an offensive force in his second season as a pro. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound power dodger was unstoppable at times in totaling 23 goals and 12 assists.
Chesapeake made a blockbuster trade during the off-season to land superstar attackman Lyle Thompson, who more than lived up to his advanced billing by putting up 20 points in just five games with the Bayhawks, who rank third in Major League Lacrosse with 187 goals.
“I thought we did a really good job offensively this season. We have a lot of weapons and the parts seemed to mesh well together. We have a bunch of players with different skill sets,” Reese said.
Chesapeake struggled defensively during the early part of the season, but got stronger down the stretch. Veteran Brian Farrell brought some stability to the close defense while goalkeeper Niko Amato stepped up as the Bayhawks held their last three opponents to just over 11 goals per game.
“Our defense definitely improved as the season went along,” Reese said. “Good news is that we have everyone back on that end of the field, which should help in terms of communication and cohesiveness. Chemistry is critical in this league and we began to develop that toward the end.”
Chesapeake hit the jackpot with its 2017 Collegiate Draft class and a total of seven rookies got into games and contributed. Faceoff specialist Ben Williams(Syracuse) provided a big lift by winning 143 of 269 draws while Isaiah Davis-Allen (Maryland) quickly became one of the top short stick defensive midfielders in MLL. Attackmen Colin Heacock (Maryland) and Nick Aponte(Penn State), close defenseman Chris Fennell (Navy) and short stick defensive midfielder Nick Manis (Maryland) also did good things.
“We have quality young talent at every position. It’s a very good group to build around,” Reese said. “We used Nick Aponte the last couple games and saw that he is a quick, explosive dodger who can break ankles with the best of them. Nick Manis has been a pleaseant surprise – a very competitive guy and really smart player.”
Chesapeake could introduce another rookie into the mix this week as faceoff specialist Stephen Kelly (North Carolina) is in line to make his MLL debut.
While Chesapeake may be out of contention for the playoffs, that does not mean this Thursday night’s game is not meaningful. Reese intends to make it clear to the players during Wednesday’s practice and pre-game that beating the Outlaws is a must.
“In my mind, this game means everything. We’ll see what kind of pride and character our players possess,” Reese said. “We’re going to treat this like the most important game of the season. We need to finish strong and show the fans that we have a quality team.