As Major League Lacrosse closes in on the middle of the season, the race for playoff spots tightens with the usual suspects remaining at the top while a surprise contender finds itself in a tie for the number four spot. The season is far from over and even the bottom teams are still within striking distance with little room for error. The number that every team wants to avoid is six regular season losses as it almost certainly eliminates them from playoffs. Sweeping another team in the regular season proves itself repeatedly a benefit in this league where every playoff spot proves contested.
Many teams showed a new look this week as they dressed recently-drafted rookies. A newcomer entered the top four as Florida continues to improve. New York and Boston, founding powerhouses of the league, find themselves looking up at the top of the standings while the newer Charlotte and Atlanta join them. Keep in mind that defending champion Denver made a late season run to make it to the semifinals and take the cup. Anything is possible.
Florida 13 @ New York 10
In a tightly contested game, the Florida Launch emerged with a 13-10 victory over the New York Lizards. The victory leaves the Launch tied for fourth place with the Rochester Rattlers, a team they already swept in the regular season. The Launch jumped out to an early 3-1 lead at the end of the first quarter, but the Lizards roared back in the second to tie the game 4-4 at the half. Florida rookies and former Syracuse linemates Nick Mariano and Sergio Salcido scored their first career MLL goals in the third as they contributed to a seven-goal output that gave the Launch an 11-9 lead. Both offenses cooled in the fourth as Florida scored twice to New York’s sole tally. Shots on goal (31-30) and ground balls (26-25) favoured New York, but only by a one each. New York found itself uncharacteristically on the opposite side of the face-off battle as Will Gural and Tim Edwards combined to finish 15-27 against Greg Gurenlian. Kieran McArdle led all Launch scorers with three goals while Mariano, Conner Buczek and Chazz Woodson each had a pair. Matt Gibson led the Lizards offense with three goals while Paul Rabil added two. Both goalies played exceptionally well, with Drew Adams making `7 saves for the Lizards and Austin Kaut making 21 saves on his way to earning player of the game as well as defensive player of the week honours.
NEXT: The teams face each other again this Saturday as Florida looks to sweep New York and make the playoffs for the first time. The Lizards find themselves at 2-3 on the season with a chance to still make playoffs.
Ohio 18 @ Chesapeake 11
The Ohio Machine settled back into second place with its “faceless” defense holding the league’s best offense to 11 goals. The Machine led at the end of the first quarter 4-2 and maintained the lead at halftime 9-6. Ohio’s offense worked like a “machine,” pardon the pun, as they maintained their lead for the rest of the game. Surprisingly, Ohio struggled at the face-off X despite the fact it was Chesapeake’s Ben Williams’ debut. The rookie went 23-32 against in a dominant performance. Despite addressing a glaring weakness and finally winning the face-off battle as well as collecting six more ground balls than Ohio (41-35), Chesapeake only went 1-4 on extra-man opportunities. Marcus Holman and Kevin Cunningham led Ohio in scoring with four goals apiece while Jake Bernhardt, Peter Baum, Mark Cockerton and Tom Schreiber each scored two as the Machine showed the deadly offensive production they displayed last season. Shawn Evans led Chesapeake with three goals and Myles Jones added two as the Bayhawks’ offense struggled to gain traction against the Machine defense. For the second week in a row, Kyle Bernlohr got the win for Ohio as he made 20 saves while Brian Phipps made 15. The win moves Ohio into second place and drops Chesapeake down to third.
NEXT: Ohio hosts Boston as they look to put some space between themselves and the rest of the league while the Cannons surprisingly finds themselves in second-to-last place. Chesapeake faces a well-rested Rochester team that needs wins to get ahead of a Florida team that has already swept them in the regular season.
Denver 19 @ Boston 13
Denver got back to their winning ways and retained their hold on first place after a wild fourth quarter led by Wes Berg’s hat trick. Both teams took turns scoring in the first and finished tied at four. Denver had a 10-8 lead at halftime despite a two-point goal from Max Seibald. The Outlaws held the two-goal advantage at the end of the third quarter 12-10. Max Seibald opened the fourth with his second two-pointer, tying the game at 12, but Denver responded with a six-goal run spearheaded by Wes Berg. Will Manny interrupted the run with a goal at 8:29 but Nick Ossello capped the win with a goal off his own winning face-off. Berg led the Outlaws with four goals while Eric Law, Drew Snider and Matt Kavanagh each scored three. Rookie Zach Currier had a goal and two assists in his debut. Berg’s fourth quarter heroics earned him player of the game honours. Seibald led the Cannons with two 2-point goals. Manny, Davey Emala, Justin Turri and Kevin Buchanan each scored two goals for Boston. Denver continued their success at the face-off X as they went 18-34 against Boston. Denver won the ground ball battle 42-38 and had six more shots on goal (33-27). Jack Kelly made 16 saves for Denver and Tyler Fiorito made 14 saves (six of them in the fourth quarter).
NEXT: Denver has a bye week and then returns to face Boston again, facing the challenge of sweeping a team in the regular season: a difficult task in MLL, especially against motivated opponent. Boston faces the gauntlet of high-powered Ohio at home then the first place Outlaws coming off a week of rest.
Charlotte 18 @ Atlanta 19
The Atlanta Blaze broke their losing streak and found their way back to the win column by defeating the Charlotte Hounds in a game where both teams shot out the lights and then some. The Blaze jumped out to an 8-4 lead at the end of the first quarter, but the Hounds bit back with a seven-goal run in the second half and took a an 11-9 lead at halftime. Atlanta dug down and scored six in the third while holding Charlotte to three, and taking a one-goal lead into the fourth. James Pannell scored a 2-point goal in the third, allowing the Blaze to get their lead. Both teams scored four goals in the fourth, but it was not enough for the Hounds to take the lead. Pannell’s four goals and seven points led all Atlanta scorers, closely followed by Chris Bocklet who also scored four goals. Pannell’s performance earned him player of the game and offensive player of the week honours. Dylan Donahue added three goals for Atlanta while Matt Mackrides and rookie Adam Osika tallied twice each. Hounds’ rookie John Crawley led the team with six goals in his debut; Crawley was drafted 33rd out of Johns Hopkins in the recent MLL draft. He was named rookie of the week for his impressive (to say the least) debut. Joey Sankey scored three goals, while Ryan Brown, Kevin Crowley and Brendan Fowler each scored two. The face-off battle proved equally as close as the Hounds gained a two-win advantage of the Blaze (21-40 vs 19-40). Charlotte collected seven more ground balls than Atlanta (37-30), in part due to the edge at the X. Adam Ghitelman went the distance for the Blaze, making 15 saves and getting the win. The Hounds split duties between Pierce Bassett (11 saves) and Charlie Cipriano (three saves).
NEXT: The back end of the home-and-home. This game means gaining ground in the win column and forcing the other team further down in the standings.