CHARLOTTE, N.C.–While the New York Lizards have clinched a berth in the Major League Lacrosse playoffs, they still have two goals to close out the regular season–improve enough to earn a first-round home game in the playoffs, and avoid the late-season doldrums.
The Lizards nearly failed on both of those goals Friday night, fending off a late rally to take a 12-11 victory over the Charlotte Hounds at American Legion Memorial Stadium.
Rob Pannell scored two of his three goals and assisted on another score late in the fourth quarter to break a 9-9 tie and put control of the game in the hands of New York (8-5), which remains third in the MLL standings, one game behind the Denver Outlaws (9-4).
Tom Palasek also had a hat trick for the Lizards, Michael Kimmel added a goal and three assists, and four others–JoJo Marasco, Joe Fletcher, Ned Crotty and Kyle Hartzell–all had one goal each, Hartzell a two-pointer.
“We’re in the playoffs, but we’re battling for a home playoff game,” New York head coach Joe Spallina said. “As you see in this league, teams play way better at home, whether it be because of the travel or the fanbase, whatever it is.
“Beyond what the win does, a good road win can help a team going into the playoffs. You want to prove you can win on the road, as well. You want to be battle tested, especially coming off a loss (July 27 against the Chesapeake Bayhawks). We want to be battle tested going into the playoffs, so I’m pumped for the guys. It means a lot to the locker room to get a W on the road.”
Matt Danowski scored three goals–his first hat trick in nearly two months–and assisted on a fourth, and Mike Sawyer and John Haus added two goals each for the Hounds (4-9), who lost their fourth straight and fell into a tie with the Bayhawks at the bottom of the MLL standings.
Jake Tripucka, Joe Cummings Jr. and Mason Poli had one goal each for Charlotte.
“That’s a playoff team, and we’re a young team,” Charlotte coach Mike Cerino said. “It was going to be a one-possession game, and we needed to execute there at the end.”
It was also a record-setting night for two Hounds players: rookie attacker Justin Ward and goalkeeper Pierce Bassett.
Ward, Charlotte’s third-round pick in the 2014 collegiate draft, had three assists against the Lizards, giving him 20 on the season to set a new team record. The old mark was 19 assists, set by Danowski in 2012.
Bassett, getting the start ahead of veteran Adam Ghitelman, tied Ghitelman’s team record with a 20-save performance Friday. But the Hounds also turned the ball over 19 times, six of those coming in the fourth quarter.
However, even with all the turnovers, the Hounds appeared to have swung the game’s momentum their way on Ryan Young’s diving goal from behind the net with 13:55 left in the fourth quarter. But Spallina challenged the score, and it was overturned after game officials checked the replay.
While that decision swung the game’s momentum New York’s way, the Lizards–having their own turnover problems, committing 15 in Friday’s game–didn’t capitalize until the final five minutes.
Pannell scored at the 4:41 mark to put New York ahead to stay, scored again 52 seconds later, then set up Kimmel’s goal with 2:59 remaining for a 12-9 Lizards lead.
Still, the Hounds weren’t out of it.
A tough faceoff win by rookie Brendan Fowler–who finished 8-of-23 against New York’s Greg Gurenlian, the MLL’s top FOGO–set up Poli’s third two-point goal of the season with 2:17 left, cutting the Lizards’ lead to a single goal.
Charlotte’s defense then forced a New York turnover to regain possession with 52 seconds left, and called timeout with 32 seconds remaining to set up for a final shot, but a turnover ended a chance at overtime.
“Losing to a playoff 12-11 shows that we’ve got what it takes,” Ward said. “We can be a playoff team, we just need to eliminate a couple of silly mistakes or defensive breakdowns.”