13 PLL Championship Plays Led to Whipsnakes Win
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13 PLL Championship Plays Led to Whipsnakes Win

Championship games produce championship moments. It creates the classic situation of trying to “win your last game”, knowing that there is a long offseason ahead, regardless of the team, league, or year. Whipsnakes was able to cap off its undefeated Championship Series with two playoff wins and another PLL Championship to its name.

Rather than focusing on who had the best games or pulling apart the box score and other stats, this is a dive into the individual plays that really stood out in the PLL Championship Game. Not all of them are goals, not all of them are flashy, but in my eyes, these were the key plays of the tournament that gave Chaos early control, or what led to Whipsnake’s eventual, 12-6, win.

PLL Championship Plays

First Strike

The first goal of the game is always significant to some degree, but in this case some potential issues for the Chaos defense were shown. It was actually a beautiful play in its simplicity. Just over a minute into the game, Whipsnakes were inbounding the ball from the end line following a John Haus shot that went wide. Zed Williams took the ball in, and Haus came down from the top to set a pick for him on the crease. Zed carried to his right wing, passed back to Haus, who immediately swung it to the other side to Matt Rambo, who then immediately passed it to a wide-open Mike Chanenchuck for a step down shot and goal.

The two-man game had pulled in so much attention it created a huge void on the back side for this shooting opportunity. That was in no small part to Haus leaving his middie spot, pulling his defender down to the crease, and using fast ball movement to create the scoring opportunity.

Other Way

Not much later in the quarter, this exactly play happened again, but it was going in the other direction. In this one, Rambo was actually the dodger, drawing a double team. Once the double was fully committed, he dumped it to X, and there were two quick passes setting up a Max Tuttle shot, which went wide.

This set being run twice so early in the game with so much success in creating an open shot made it look like Chaos were in deep trouble. But this was the last time we would see this for a little while, as Whipsnakes started going for more isolation and dodging.

Glicini Smash

The next play isn’t a goal directly, but it creates the opportunity. Following a Whipsnakes face-off win, they tried forcing the ball inside, but Mark Glicini actually had a phenomenal play. At 3:15 left in the first, there was a drawn out face-off win by the Whipsnakes, where Michael Ehrhardt finally picked up the ground ball close to their own two point arc.

Ehrhardt carried it down in the offensive end, passing it back to Max Tuttle, who then tried feeding Joe Nardella on the crease. But Glicini was already in the crease, keeping an eye on his man behind at X. Even though Nardella had a step on his own defender, Glicini saw this developing and slid hard, knocking Nardella down as the pass arrived, creating a loose ball. Chaos picked it up, setting up their third goal from Austin Staats once their settled offense was on the field. Without that slide, the game could have easily been 3-1 Whipsnakes instead of a 2-2 tie.

Dueling Saves

In the second quarter there was another non-scoring play that was just an incredible effort. A pair of back-to-back saves by Whipsnakes that could have easily started a Chaos run. It began with a Josh Byrne shot into the side of the goal that drew Kyle Bernlohr out of the cage behind. Bernlohr picked up the ground ball, but when he tried passing it to Tim Muller in the alley to clear, Byrne picked it off again. Byrne passed it to a cutting Dhane Smith, who shot with while Bernlohr barely had a foot at GLE. Matt Dunn was playing goalie the best he could, and Bryce Young was on the far pipe. Nine times out of 10, that’s a Chaos goal. Dunn was in the right place at the right time, the shot hit him and bounced out, which was immediately picked up by Curtis Dickson, who redirected back at the cage as well. While Dunn was still between the pipes, Bernlohr dove across the crease like he was re-enacting Kevin Costner in the Bodyguard, and another legendary save was made.

Whipsnakes grabbed that ground ball and was able to clear it up the field. Denying two chances like these in unsettled situations is a major testament to the Whipsnakes defense. Making these plays comes from repetition and instinct. They saw where the openings were near the crease and immediately filled them, and istopped two different scoring opportunities by Chaos.

Never Outdone

Speaking of saves, let’s talk about Blaze Riorden for a moment here. He had an incredible game despite the loss, and was a big reason why Whipsnakes were held scoreless for long stretches. One great example of this came in the second, where Riorden stopped Zed Williams one-on-one. Riorden had no business making this save. While man-up of all things, Williams was camped out near the crease. He caught a pass from the opposite side, took a few steps and dove, trying to go high over Riorden’s stick. The ball wound up going past the cage and out of bounds, but Willams was called for in the crease, creating a change of possession.

If Riorden didn’t have that sort of aggressive approach, that easily would have been a goal. He forced Williams to improvise, which not only prevented a goal, but also gave Chaos possession. That possession would draw a foul from the Whipsnakes as well. Even though they did not score, those are the exact swings a defense dreams of. One man down to a save, to a clear, to a man-up the other way.

What Isn’t Broken

Remember that play I mentioned earlier with the Whipsnakes swinging it around the perimeter with a ton of success? They tried it again with 45 seconds left in the half. Even though the Whipsnakes offense was starting to stall, this was an indication that they were still working to be find opportunities. John Haus, behind the cage, passed it to Rambo on the other side of the field. Rambo tried dodging on Jack Rowlett, who gave him no space at all. So Rambo, from the lefty wing, passed up to Joe LoCascio after his defender left to double Rambo. LoCascio, seeing the space from the double in front of him, takes a few steps towards the two point line. Glicini is then forced to leave Chanenchuck to cover LoCascio, making the three slide from the crease start to close out on Chanenchuck. Unfortunately for Whipsnakes, Chanenchuk lost his feet and fell, the ball went on the ground and Glicini was off to the races the other way. But that look for the Whipsnakes as still there, and they were looking like a team that could pass much faster than the Chaos defense could recover from.

Flash of Winter

To start the second half, Kevin Buchanan worked a perfect two-man game with Austin Staats on the lefty wing. Buchanan started his approach pretty high, but the Whipsnakes defenders were exposed in poor communication. Buchanan’s defender was caught upfield from Staats, as he didn’t try to go above or behind the pick. Staats’ defender decided to stay rather than switch to Buchanan. With that matchup blown, Buchanan had plenty of time to wind up and shoot before Tim Muller could even think about closing out and disrupting the shot.

More Saves

Later in the quarter, it was Kyle Bernlohr’s chance to make a pivotal mono e mono save. With the offense stagnating, and time wasting away, Bernlohr stopped Miles Thompson with 2:24 left in the quarter and down 6-3. Thompson had a nice catch and shoot opportunity from the Island, where ripped sent an underhand shot on cage. Bernlohor saved it with his left foot, sending the ball to the sideline. A great effort from Bryce Young gave Whipsnakes possession off the runout, setting up a settled six-on-six offense for Whipsnakes where Rambo found Zed Williams to bring the game within two. This was the moment where the Whipsnakes start to take over.


Still Digging

Once the fourth quarter rolled around, it was clear Whipsnakes were behind the wheel. Even with the separation, a few plays stood out as particularly notable. Starting with the Haus goal, a pure iso effort that was pretty much non-existent in the other three quarters. Haus was dodging against Resch on the right alley, and after running upfield, rolled back, and with a lefty shot going down the left alley, he connected directly with the top right corner of the goal.

So think about the incredible complexity here. Haus was even with the top of the crease, about two yards out, and with a lefty shot he went stick-side-high to the far post. This is absolutely incredible.

Make It, Take It

The next goal was all of five seconds later off your standard fast-break setup. Nardella won the face-off forward, picked up the ground ball and went straight at the net. When he reached the two-point line, the slide came off of Williams running the point, but the two never left Jay Carlson on the crease. Williams’ fast release took the goal, since another second later would have had him covered by Matt Rees coming down off the face-off wing.

It was perfectly a timed and executed fast break goal. This quick seires brought the Whipsnakes within one of the Chaos.

Right Away

The game tying goal was nothing short of incredible from Williams, and was something he was showing all series long.

The very next possession from his prior goal, Williams took the ball from a clear on the the wing. He used a pick from Carlson, and both his defender and Carlson’s stayed with him. If he had the to make a pass, this would have just been your standard pick-and-roll two-man game with a Carlson shot. But Williams split his defenders, kept his stick tucker over next to his left shoulder to protect it from the slide, and scored his twister goal just like that from the top of the crease.

What’s funny about this twister is that there really wasn’t anything flashy about it. He was already in stick protection mode coming out of the double, and had to hide is stick on that side from the sliding defender. Since Riorden is lefty goalie, that actual meant his stick was already directly in front of Riorden’s open side, leaving the net wide up for a quick wrist flick and goal. So while the effort was incredible, it actually made perfect sense.

And Again…

A mere 20 second later, Whipsnakes took the lead in the same way they opened the game’s scoring. Perimeter passing. Chanenchuck starting things off showing a downhill dodge, but he pulled up and passed it to the alley to  Smith. Smith swing it down to X to Rambo, who was already making Rowlett scramble to catchup to him. As the defense was adjusting to the ball movement, Carlson curled inside, catching the pass from Rambo and immediately burying it.

It was a pretty devastating couple of minutes for the Chaos defense.

Final Nails

To end things, Chaos were blanked in the fourth. One telling play came with 4:15 left, which was really plenty of time to score with full possessions, assuming a two pointer or two. Chaos tried to force the ball inside, it didn’t work, and the ball went back the other way.

Breaking down that set a little more, Chaos was down 10-6, and Whipsnakes had just scored at 5:15. Chaos won the face-off with a Tyson Bell ground ball, and they settled in the six-on-six offense. They didn’t even have their entire offense on until there was just 30 seconds left in the shot clock. With no unsettled pressure, Chaos was obviously waiting for everyone to get on before doing anything. Byrne started things from the right wing covered by a short stick, which he was able to take advantage of create a shot from distance. Bernlohr made a relatively routine save to reset the shot clock and the rebound went way outside. Frocarro picked up the ground ball, tried an initial dodge on his short stick matchup, passed it over to Salcido when the long stick slide came, and the Whipsnake’s pole closed out on Salcido quickly. That mean Salcido had the option of either pulling the ball back out and resetting, or looking for a chance to score, and about quarter of a second to decide. He tried to force the pass inside to Byrne, but the pass went high and out of bounds.

So it would be easy to pass this off as just a bad pass from Salcido, or a wasted possession by Chaos as a whole, but that does not give the Whipsnakes defense enough credit. They had started the possession with a short stick on Byrne and Frocarro, withstood two dodging attempts, made a save, and wound up eventually getting longpoles on Salcido and Frocarro, the two biggest midfield dodging threats.

When you hear about defense winning championships, this is exhibit A. Exhibit A won the PLL Championship.