Chesapeake Bayhawks Capture Third MLL Championship
Balanced Offense, Suffocating Defense Key 13-9 Defeat of Long Island
Annapolis, MD - Unbridled joy! That is the only way to describe the scene on the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Sunday afternoon as the Chesapeake Bayhawks celebrated capturing the Major League Lacrosse Championship. Players took turns hoisting the Steinfeld Cup and sprayed each other with cans of Bud Light while members of the coaching staff gave each other hearty bear hugs.
After a roller coaster season that featured a five-game losing streak and after failing to even make the playoffs four straight years, the joy and emotion that poured out of the Bayhawks was to be expected.
Rookie attackman Brian Carroll and second-year midfielder Peet Poillon scored three goals apiece to lead a balanced offense while second-year defenseman Michael Evans anchored a suffocating defense as a youthful Chesapeake Bayhawks squad knocked off a veteran Long Island Lizards contingent, 13-9, in the Major League Lacrosse Championship Game.
Midfielder Kyle Dixon totaled two goals and an assist while attackman Ben Rubeor dished off three assists for fourth-seeded Chesapeake (8-6), which went on a 5-0 second-half run to broke open a back-and-forth game. Attackman Danny Glading and midfielder Peet Poillon scored two goals apiece for the Bayhawks, who captured the third MLL title in franchise history and first since 2005.
Chesapeake is probably the youngest team in the MLL with 10 of the 19 players that dressed for the championship either rookies or second-year professionals. However, grizzled veterans such as Dixon, goalie Chris Garrity, close defenseman Shawn Nadelen and attackman Andrew “Buggs” Combs all made key contributions on Sunday and were the first to take possession of the Steinfeld Cup.
“I’m just so proud of the players. I think about guys like Buggs Combs, Kyle Dixon and Chris Garrity, who have been with this organization for a long time and were so hungry for a championship. Those are our leaders and I’m so happy we were able to win this for them,” Chesapeake president and head coach Brendan Kelly said.
Rookie midfielder Michael Kimmel had a goal and an assist during the decisive 5-0 run, which started with 44 seconds left in the third quarter and ended with 7:57 remaining in the fourth. The Bayhawks trailed 8-7 when Poillon tied the game on a beautiful behind-the-back shot off a superb feed from Rubeor.
Chesapeake then completely took over early in the fourth quarter with Carroll scoring two of his goals off hard crank shots and Dixon contributing a goal and an assist as the host team took a 12-8 lead.
“I think our depth showed today. It was real hot out there and I think we wore down Long Island,” Kelly said. “Running six midfielders for the last five games paid off. It didn’t matter whose number was called, they all went out and did a performed well.”
Tough, hard-nosed defense anchored by spectacular goalie play from Garrity proved crucial on Championship Weekend as Chesapeake held a pair of very potent offenses to nine goals each. Garrity made 10 spectacular saves against Long Island after stuffing 18 versus top-seeded Boston on Saturday.
“I can’t say enough about Chris Garrity. He absolutely showed this weekend that he’s the best goalie in this league. He made some amazing saves in both games and was really the difference-maker,” Kelly said.
Evans also played a crucial role in the two upsets, limiting Boston attackman and MLL Most Valuable Player Matt Poskay to two goals then holding Long Island leading scorer Matt Danowski to an assist.
“We had a great defensive game-plan and we executed it exactly the way it was drawn up,” Evans said. “Matt is one of the best attackman I’ve ever gone against, but I’ve covered him every year since I was a sophomore in college so I’m real familiar with him. Today, I was fortunate to get the best of Matt, which doesn’t happen very often.”
Long stick midfielder Kyle Hartzell was another key cog in the tremendous two-game defensive performance – shutting out Boston All-MLL midfielder Paul Rabil then also shutting out Long Island midfielder Stephen Berger a day after he netted five in a semifinal victory over Denver.
“Michael Evans proved once again that he’s a shutdown defender. I don’t think Danowski got a shot off. What he did this weekend in containing Poskay and Danowski is a big reason why we won the championship,” Kelly said. “I also can’t enough about Kyle Hartzell and the job he did on two very dangerous midfielders. There’s no doubt that defense was the difference this weekend.”
Things looked bleak at one point this season as Chesapeake endured a five-game losing streak to go from first to last place in the six-team MLL. Kelly made a bold move by accepting the resignation of head coach John Tucker and taking over himself. However, that proved a crucial decision as the Bayhawks closed the regular season with two straight victories to clinch a playoff berth then steamrolled two higher-seeded teams on championship weekend.
Nadelen, the only active member of the Bayhawks’ 2002 and 2005 championship teams and the franchise record-holder for games played (95), could not wipe the ear-to-ear smile off is face afterward.
“Unbelievable! I feel like a rookie again. Not having been in the playoffs for five years and what the new ownership has done to bring us back to this point… it just feels fantastic. I’m so happy to be a part of it,” said Nadelen, who did a superb job of smothering high-scoring Long Island attackman Zack Greer (two goals).
“Brendan Kelly has incredible passion and his passion flows through to us. We understand how much he wants to win. We hit a rough patch this season, but he had faith in the players and stayed positive and that’s why we were able to pull through.”
Attackmen Keith Cromwell and midfielder Stephen Peyser also scored two goals for Long Island (8-6), which has now lost three times in the finals to the Bayhawks. Meanwhile, Chesapeake joined the now-defunct Philadelphia Barrage as the only franchises in league history to capture three MLL crowns.
“I bought this franchise because I thought it was the greatest one in the MLL. We won our third championship so we represented our alumni well. I’m proud to be part of a great organization,” Kelly said.