Who could have scripted a better opening act for the 2012 MLL playoffs?
On Friday night, the Denver Outlaws had their worst nightmares come to life when 2012 MVP Brendan Mundorf suffered a severe ankle sprain and fell to the turf in immense pain.
Unable to perform in the opening game against the Long Island Lizards, the Outlaws themselves didn’t believe they had a shot.
The Lizards pounced on the trepidation and ran up-and-down the field at will driving ahead with a 12-3 lead early in the third quarter. I was almost seconds away from grabbing the clicker and seeing what else was on the tube.
Thankfully I didn’t.
Led by Peet Poillon and Chris Bocklet, the Outlaws picked themselves up and fought valiantly. The Lizards on the other hand rested on their laurels and packed it in all too soon.
Coach of the Year Brian Spallina will be losing a lot of sleep wondering how in the world his club gave up such a big lead.
The Outlaws early play was indicative of how important Mundorf is to their offensive plans. But something clicked. Poillon and Bocklet snapped out of their funk and used their athleticism to create opportunities including multiple highlight reel diving goals into the crease.
With 11:32 left in the third quarter, the Outlaws started their surge and finished the contest scoring 10 unanswered goals. Jeremy Sieverts, MLLs Most Improved Player of the Year, layered the icing on the cake at the 6:19 mark in the fourth quarter when he gave Denver their first lead of the game at 13-12.
While writing this I am still scratching my head wondering how the Lizards couldn’t bury the hatchet. Former Outlaw Max Seibald played a hard-fought game as he tallied two goals and an assist while using his world class speed on the defensive side. However, complacency struck the Lizards to end their season.
Bocklet was the sparkplug for the Outlaws as he scored six goals including four in the second half while also grabbing four groundballs and player of the game honors.
The status of Mundorf is still in the air. Though a Cinderella-like comeback, without Mundorf in the finals, I don’t see the Outlaws being able to recreate the same magic, but then again, I didn’t see it happening in the first round either.
It was almost an impossible feat to upstage the game before them but the Boston Cannons and Chesapeake Bayhawks had the tough task of following the opening act.
To make a comparison, the first game epitomized a beat up boxer shocking the champion with a late knockout, while this contest resembled punches being thrown left and right, sometimes literally in the chippy affair.
The host Cannons came out of the gate hot but as the story goes, ‘it’s not how you start but how you finish.’
Mike Stone set the tone with two goals and two assists in the first quarter while the Bayhawks made it clear that their game plan on defense was to stop Offensive Player of the Year Paul Rabil. The Bayhawks succeeded in that as he registered two assists over four quarters of play.
The scorching start fizzled rather quickly as their leader Rabil was held in check and so was the supporting cast. The Cannons were outplayed in the final three quarters as they were outscored 14-5.
Ben Rubeor and John Grant Jr. were too much to handle for the Cannons. Rubeor scored five of his six goals in the second half while ‘the ageless wonder’ banged down low while scoring a nifty behind the back goal along with another score and four assists.
Kip Turner, the net-minder for the Bayhawks, didn’t forget that he was discarded by the Cannons. The Maryland native led his hometown club in the crease with 14 saves while allowing nine goals. For any keeper to hold Rabil, Ryan Boyle, and Matt Poskay to a total of one goal goes to show how out-of-his mind he was playing.
Despite the halftime score of 9-8 in favor of Chesapeake, the Cannons managed to score twice in the following two quarters.
The depth that the Bayhawks brought to the table was the deciding factor. Kyle Dixon played true to form as he netted two, two-point goals along with another to give him the hatty. Along with Rubeor and Grant, players such as Drew Westervelt and Michael Kimmel also placed shots in the back of the net.
The offense made their presence known, but, it was the resurgence of the defense that enabled the Bayhawks to more opportunities in the second half.
Along with Turner, Nicky Polanco and Brian Spallina deserve a lot of attention as they did their best to throw Rabil and company off their games. Spallina, who’s infamously known for his tactics after the whistle and out of the play, had Rabil very testy at times and made it evident that he was getting under the skin of the alleged unstoppable force including an incident where the two wrestled on the ground and had an official separate the two.
The scoreboard at Harvard Stadium didn’t read quite the result the fans would have hoped for as the Cannons season came to a halt as the Bayhawks sent them packing with a 16-10 loss.
With that said, it all comes down to two teams, two clubs that have a history of winning, and a disdain taste for one another.
Friendships are being tossed aside, past relationships are not important now. Brian Reese, the current Bayhawks general manager, held the same position with the Outlaws a season ago and is responsible for bringing in the likes of Mundorf and company.
However, the prize on the line is more important. The chance of hoisting the trophy is now that much more realistic; it’s no longer just a farfetched dream.
Will Mundorf lace them up despite the injury and do his best to mimic Willis Reed and other star figures that came through when adversity is at its peak?
Who knows if he will but if the Outlaws pack the same punch they did against the Lizards, anything is possible.
For the Bayhawks, the game plan is simple, get ready for Mundorf and make sure to feed the Outlaws a heavy dose of John Grant Jr. for a championship game that what has the makings for a wild ride.