Bayhawks vs Lizards 7.26.14 Credit: Casey Kermes Major League
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Digesting Major League Lacrosse: Week 12

If you had money on last year’s Major League Lacrosse champion and runner-up being the first teams eliminated in 2014, you a) just cleaned up huge and b) probably have a serious gambling problem. Either way, that unenviable scenario is exactly what played out for the Bayhawks and Hounds. From the championship game to the bottom of the standings, just like that. Started from the top, now they’re there.

If you do consider yourself a gambler, I’ll break things down accordingly. Basically, Major League Lacrosse is like a casino: you can’t guarantee wins, only devise strategies aiming to reduce your chances of losing, and even then, when you think you’ve got everything lined up according to plan, there’s always a whole mess of factors that are still out of your hands. If there’s one thing this season has reminded us, it’s that, not unlike halfway crooks, there’s simply no such thing as foolproof formulas for success. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing should be taken for granted and (considering three of the four teams that lost this weekend did so against opponents with inferior records), most of all, no opponent can be underestimated.

In case you missed anything, here’s a closer look at week 12 of the hectic and confusing 2014 Major League Lacrosse season:

Launch 23, Cannons 15

With Kieran McArdle’s five goal, five assist performance leading the way, the Launch snapped their five-game losing streak in convincing fashion, steamrolling the Boston Cannons in Florida’s final home game of the year.
McArdle has now scored 30 goals this season, tying the rookie record set by Kevin Huntley back in 2008 with the now-defunct LA Riptide, and his 43 points give him the second-most productive rookie campaign in league history, trailing only Ryan Boyle’s 45 points in 2004.

With Kevin Crowley now in Chesapeake and Garrett Thul having left the team to honor his military obligations, Florida once again saw increased contributions from the revamped midfield position, as (clearly sick of being traded) David Earl netted a career-high four goals, and both Jordan Hall and Steven Brooks recorded career-high five-point efforts. Add Casey Powell’s casual three goal, three assist evening to the mix, and you’ve got an offensive effort that eclipsed Florida’s previous franchise record of 15 goals in one game.

The Launch had just a two-goal lead at the half, but a Chris Eck injury (his four replacements went a combined 3-13) and four unanswered goals in the third quarter (along with seven of the first eight goals in the fourth) convincingly put the game out of hand, with both teams going to their respective goalie bullpens for entirely different reasons. While Jordan Burke was yanked in favor of rookie Austin Kaut during the third quarter onslaught, Brett Queener got to take off part of the fourth quarter and relax, at least until Adam Fullerton hit Will Manny in the back of the neck and was escorted to the penalty box, at which point Queener was forced back into the goal.

Fullerton wasn’t the only one getting chippy, as this game saw over 20 minutes of penalties, 18 of them coming in the fourth quarter alone. Tensions ran high throughout the evening, and from Brett Queener yelling at his defense to numerous Cannons players chatting throughout the game, ESPN’s super-sensitive mics caught more profanity than the first three Wu-Tang albums combined.

Oh, and, get this: as further evidence of Major League Lacrosse’s uncanny scheduling acumen, these two very angry teams, now tied at 5-7, get to run it back next weekend in Boston. With the 6-6 Machine sitting in fourth place and facing the Rattlers in Rochester next weekend, that final playoff spot is by no means set in stone.

So here’s the question – can the Launch produce like this again? Not that we expect them (or anyone, really) to drop 23 every weekend, but they’ve now demonstrated that they have an offense that’s fully capable of putting up numbers when things are clicking just right. Conversely, now that they know what didn’t work, you’d have to assume the Cannons find a way to keep McArdle in single digits, but will it be enough to stop what might be a new-look Florida offense? The Cannons better hope Florida got all that scoring out of their system last weekend, because they return to Boston with their backs against the wall.

If the Cannons lose the rematch, they’re eliminated from the postseason, making this a reasonable time to remind you that the 2013 Cannons lost the last four games of the year, falling to 5-9 in the process.

Machine 23, Outlaws 22 (OT)

The surging Ohio Machine picked up their second overtime win in as many weeks, knocking off the Outlaws and gaining sole possession of fourth place in the process.

The game started out with everything going Denver’s way, the Outlaws dominating early possession and scoring the first three goals of the game. Unfortunately for them, somebody up there is a Machine fan (or perhaps just really enjoys antagonizing the Outlaws; history leans toward the latter), because a massive storm came through and stopped the game for over an hour, bringing Denver’s momentum to a screeching halt. When play resumed, the Machine went on a three goal run of their own – just like that, brand new ballgame.

Until Major League Lacrosse votes to add a fifth long pole, covering the Machine offense is going to be a pick your poison situation, and for the Outlaws, their poison of choice was covering Logan Schuss with a short stick. Schuss (who picked up 73 points last season against NLL shorties) responded accordingly, finishing with five goals on the afternoon. In more surprising news, Steele Stanwick, who entered the game shooting 3-27 this season, scored three goals on four shots, giving him the first hat trick of his career.

John Grant Jr’s nine-point effort led the way for the Outlaws, scoring two of his six goals as time ran out in the second and third quarters. Denver’s second-most prolific scorer? You guessed it, Justin Pennington. Actually, there’s no way you guessed that (he’s scored 30 goals in 46 career games), but Pennington scored five goals, handling faceoff duties in relief of Anthony Kelly as well.

The third quarter provided a controversial coaching decision, when a Dominique Alexander goal cut the Outlaws’ lead to 15-12, prompting Denver head coach BJ O’Hara to pull Jesse Schwartzman from the game. After earning defensive player of the week honors just six days prior, backup Charlie Cipriano gave up three goals without a save, and after a few minutes of standing alone and stewing, Schwartzman was right back in the game. He may have won more games than any MLL goalie before him, but that leash sure looks like it’s getting mighty short these days.
Fast forward and bit and we’re headed to overtime, where after Ohio earned and squandered the initial possession, Brian Phipps turned away a point-blank effort from Colin Dunster (that’s Mr. Clutch Phipps’ second overtime save in as many weeks).

The ball went back Ohio’s way, and Kyle Harrison was left alone with a short stick. First came the jab step that sent his defender sprinting about five yards ahead (were this an And1 game, Harrison would have then placed the ball on the ground and done the Harlem Shake. Even still, it would’ve been nice. Just something to keep in mind if you’re reading this, Kyle). Next came the lefty-righty split, a little bit of time & room, and y’all get home safe. Game, Machine.

Well, the Outlaws once again clinched a trip to the postseason (which they’ve done every year of their nine-year existence), so there’s that, and that’s fantastic for them. Unfortunately, Denver fans, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. Not only have the Outlaws lost three of their last four games, but the 23 goals allowed is their highest since their 27-26 overtime loss to Rochester back in 2007, the highest-scoring game in league history (Junior was involved in that game as well, tying a Major League Lacrosse record with 14 points for the Rattlers). During that same four-game period, Jesse Schwartzman has been yanked from three games (albeit one temporarily), and he’s saving 38% of shots he faces, down from the 66% he was stopping in his first seven games of the season.

Adding injury to insult, Anthony Kelly suffered a three-inch tear to his Achilles tendon during the game, and is now in a walking boot. Oh, and Curtis Dickson has been placed on the PUP list with a shoulder injury. It’s a far cry from Denver’s 2013 reign of terror, but we all know how that turned out; maybe the tough times now will mean a different ending later.

Rattlers 13, Hounds 9

The Hounds entered Saturday’s game winless on the road, the Rattlers entered undefeated at home, and, with the game taking place in Rochester, they exited the same way, the Rattlers’ fifth consecutive win earning them a playoff berth and sole possession of first place.

Jake Tripuka and Justin Ward led the Hounds with three points (it’s the seventh time in eight career games that Ward has tallied at least three points) each, and Brendan Fowler went 13-26 (although 4-12 in the second half) in his first game handling solo fogo duties. Charlotte kept the game within reach throughout, but despite tying six times, never found a way to take the lead.

Jordan Wolf led all scorers with five goals and two assists while proceeding to make this rookie of the year debate way closer than it should be, especially considering he’ll play in no more than 50% of his team’s regular season games this year.

In only five games, Wolf (much like Paul Rabil and very few others) has become one of those “cut your losses” type players, where opposing defenses acknowledge that their Plan A just isn’t going to be good enough, and they’ll need to slide anyway. After beating his old Duke teammate Henry Lobb inside for his first goal of the day, Wolf then found himself shadowed by Kevin Drew.

After all, why waste your pole getting beat if you can achieve the same thing with a short stick? No sense in sacrificing a knight when you can give up a pawn (and I feel terrible using that analogy, because defensive midfielders get far more blame and far less credit than they deserve anyway, but you know what I’m saying), right? Anyway, long story short, Charlotte went back to Lobb, and it didn’t work the next time either, but that’s not at all a shot at his abilities. Look, as soon as I figure out how to legally stop Jordan Wolf, I’ll let everyone know. Until then, defenders, minimal shade will be thrown from this direction.

Bayhawks 12, Lizards 11

With Boston’s loss on Saturday, the Lizards’ postseason trip was locked up before they showed up to play. Conversely, the Bayhawks had already been eliminated leaving them with nothing to play for besides pride (and their jobs – there’s going to be some serious talent evaluation in Annapolis this offseason).

Even with three-peat hopes dashed, the Bayhawks rose to the occasion, staging a successful comeback late in the game (the Lizards held the lead for over 52 minutes), and defeating New York for the sixth straight time.

From Rob Pannell tossing in Tom Marachek no-look backhands and everyone laughing it up between quarters, the Lizards were putting out that “last week of school” vibe, like when you’ve already taken all your tests so you start putting your feet on the desk and calling the teacher by their first name. Sure, home-field advantage is still up in the air (and certainly ideal for a team that’s 2-4 on the road), but with the team at full strength for the first time in weeks (besides the world games obligations, remember Max Seibald’s been out of action for over a month), it looked like New York may have taken advantage of their and Chesapeake’s respective situations to explore the studio space a bit and add some new moves to the repertoire.

Suddenly, everyone’s taking turns initiating from X: Marasco, Pannell, Crotty, Pannell and Crotty (either by design or coincidence, couldn’t tell you for sure, but they were both below GLE at the same time), you name it, and although that certainly wasn’t the main factor, the Lizards offense was far less productive than we’ve gotten used to seeing.
Winning aside, Sunday’s game was pretty much Chesapeake’s season in a nutshell: one big-name player isn’t there (Brendan Mundorf, who hasn’t suited up for Chesapeake since the middle of June), another one gets hurt (Michael Evans was helped off the field early in the second quarter after sustaining a non-contact injury) and a rack of unnecessary penalties come back to bite them (Brian Spallina picked up a two-minute cross check just 38 seconds into the game, Ned Crotty converted on the EMO).

While we’re on the subject on cheating, Spallina put eight more penalty minutes on his tab this weekend, not only raising his season total to 15, but putting him in position to wear the MLL penalty crown for the fourth straight year. Here’s a helpful way to put things into perspective: Brian Spallina missed six games with a jaw injury, which means he’s played only 24 quarters of lacrosse this season. He has spent one of those quarters sitting in the penalty box. Frankly, the Bayhawks were quite fortunate that a) a two-minute cross check is just as releasable as its one-minute counterpart and b) a five-minute misconduct means the offending player sits while the team gets to remain at even strength, because things could have been much worse for their defense.

If a team is dead-last in penalty killing, you’d think they’d make an effort to reduce penalties, but hey, that’s none of my business. Besides, they won the game, and they’ve been eliminated anyway, so maybe we’ll just save the whole “Is this a good or bad way to play lacrosse?” discussion for another time.

The Big Picture

Are you suffering from “too long; didn’t read-itis”?

Here you go: Rochester, Denver and New York are definitely in the playoffs. Chesapeake and Charlotte are definitely out, and the way the final matchups lined up, we won’t know who takes that fourth spot until the final week of the season (that ol’ MLL scheduling does it again).

There’s plenty on the table this weekend, however, with both Rochester and Denver able to clinch home-field advantage if conditions play out in their favor. Week 13 has a special meaning throughout the league as well, as it’s the HEADstrong Foundation’s “Burn Cancer Week.” Keep an eye out for HEADstong’s signature lime green on laces, socks, polo shirts, and goals throughout the games, as the league does their part to promote blood cancer awareness.