Naysayers, take a seat. The Waterdogs are on top of the world as regular season champions, and they’re not done yet. They want the Premier Lacrosse League title, too.
A 10-9 win over Atlas on Saturday afternoon gave the Waterdogs a 6-3 record, putting them in first place in the PLL standings. That earned them a bye to the semifinals, and they now await the winner of the Whipsnakes/Redwoods quarterfinal.
Though Atlas finished with an identical record, Waterdogs take first by virtue of a one-goal differential. Saturday’s game could not have had more meaning.
This Waterdogs squad is a year older, a year more experienced than the expansion club that sat in last place last season. There was some doubt when they fell two games in a row during weeks three and four, but they ended the season on a four-game winning streak. They’ve proven nearly everyone wrong by showing they’re capable of scoring big and saving big by playing as a team. Take a look at the league stats – the Waterdogs only took the top spot in caused turnovers, by Liam Byrnes.
Kieran McArdle led the team in points with 25, but Ryan Brown stole the show with 20 goals, becoming the first player to have multiple 20-goal seasons. The Waterdogs surely boast, if not the strongest, then the most inventive and athletic, midfield in the league, with Zach Currier, Mikie Schlosser, Connor Kelly and Ethan Walker all spreading the ball around. Walker, a rookie, scored four times and added 10 assists in just five games. Schlosser never fails to impress, scoring big goals at just the right time.
Dillon Ward’s overall .530 save percentage led a defense stacked with veteran talent like Byrnes, Eli Gobrecht, Chris Sabia and BJ Grill. Jake Withers’ 54% on faceoffs and 55 ground balls gave the Waterdogs extra possessions, which, with their team first attitude, they took good advantage of.
Against Atlas, the Waterdogs were forced to play catch-up early. Atlas was one step ahead, and then two, until consecutive goals from Steven DeNapoli and Ethan Walker tied the game at four early in the second quarter. The teams tied again 5-5 and then 6-6 as they headed to halftime in the late-afternoon Albany sun.
A pair of goals from Atlas’ Bryan Costabile lifted them to an 8-6 lead in the third before the Waterdogs’ Jake Withers set a pick for Zach Currier who roofed a sidearm shot past JD Colarusso in the Atlas net.
Mikie Schlosser opened the fourth with a giant goal that was less than a foot away from being a two-pointer. With the shadows starting to loom over the field, Schlosser struck again, speeding into the offensive zone and catching everyone by surprise to put the Waterdogs up 9-8. After some defensive work by both teams, it was Schlosser again for the Waterdogs, scoring his hat trick goal in style – trying for the split dodge, falling, and then shovelling a backhand into the net upon getting back up.
Atlas’ Jeff Teat scored a behind-the-back highlight-reel goal with 49 seconds left to close the gap back to a single goal, but Withers won the ensuing faceoff over Trevor Baptiste, and the Waterdogs were able to keep the ball away until the dying seconds.
Schlosser’s huge fourth quarter was the difference maker, but the Waterdogs worked as a team throughout, counting single goals from seven different players to make up the rest of the scoresheet. Kieran McArdle dished out three assists. Dillon Ward made 17 saves for a .650 save percentage.
Costabile and Mark Cockerton each scored a pair for Atlas, while Teat was held to that single goal plus a pair of assists. JD Colarusso made 10 saves, good enough for 50%.
Atlas will now play Cannons LC on Saturday, August 21 for the right to advance to the semifinals, while Waterdogs has a week off to prepare for their semi-final game on Sunday, September 5 at 1:30 p.m. at Subaru Park in Philadelphia.