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Chesapeake Can’t Hold Early Lead, Falls to Boston in Semifinals

March 18, 2016
Bayhawks Take Early 6-1 Lead, but Quinzani Leads Gutsy Boston Comeback


ANNAPOLIS, MD. - Chesapeake played with the heart and determination of the defending champions while Boston showed the poise and talent of the regular season champions. In what might go down as one of the greatest playoff games in Major League Lacrosse (MLL) history, the Cannons outlasted the Bayhawks in a back-and-forth thriller that wasn’t decided until literally the final seconds.

Attackman Max Quinzani scored three goals, including the game-winner, as top-seeded Boston rallied from a big early deficit to defeat No. 4 Chesapeake, 14-13, in Saturday’s MLL semifinals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Quinzani brought an abrupt end to a gutsy Chesapeake comeback when he scored an improbable goal with just 1.2 seconds left in regulation. Boston regained possession with about 14 seconds remaining and quickly got the ball in the stick of the savvy attackman Ryan Boyle, who drove to the middle of the field under heavy defensive pressure, looking to make a play.

Boyle managed to dump the ball inside to Quinzani, who had Bayhawks defenseman Bray Malphrus draped all over his back. Boyle’s pass was short and hit the turf, causing Malphrus to miss-time his check. Quinzani scooped the loose ball off the rain-soaked turf and in the same motion got off an underhanded, left-handed shot that just barely squirted past Chesapeake goalie Chris Garrity.

“Max Quinzani made an incredible play, just like he has throughout his career. I don’t know how he does it. Some guys just have a knack for scoring big goals and he’s one of them,” Bayhawks midfielder Michael Kimmel said.

It appeared Chesapeake might steal the victory after mounting an amazing fourth-quarter rally. The Bayhawks trailed 13-8 with just over five minutes remaining when midfielder Steven Brooks started the comeback by scoring an unassisted goal on a determined drive and hard overhand shot.

Veteran midfielder Kyle Dixon then scored off an assist from Ben Hunt to make it 13-10 and that duo would team up again moments later. Head coach Brendan Kelly called timeout to set up a play that worked to perfection with Dixon coming off a pick, taking a pass from Hunt, and firing in a 2-point goal that suddenly made the score 13-12 with 2:24 to go.

Boston won the ensuing faceoff, but Garrity made a great save to give Chesapeake the ball back. Kelly again called timeout and set up a different play that mimicked the previous one that resulted in Dixon’s 2-pointer.

This time, Hunt faked a pass to Dixon then raced down the left alley – using his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame to push past defender Jack Reid and to the front of the cage for a 5-yard shot that beat goalie Jordan Burke and tied the score at 13 with 37 remaining.

After an extended battle at the faceoff spot, Chesapeake long stick defensive midfielder Kyle Hartzell gobbled up the ground ball and raced into the offensive zone. Hartzell fired a good shot at the feet of Burke, who dropped down to make a tremendous save. Hartzell managed to come up with the rebound, but lost the ball out of bounds while being harassed by two Cannons.

 “There’s not another player I’d rather see with the ball in his stick streaking to the goal then Kyle Hartzell,” Kelly said. “Kyle makes a nice fake, shoots the ball down low and Jordan Burke makes a great save. That was a heck of a save by that kid.”

Last season, Chesapeake became the first franchise in MLL history to capture a championship as the fourth seed. Kelly thought his club was headed back to the finals for a second straight season after the way things unfolded down the stretch.

 “We were down 13-8 and I didn’t think for a second we were going to lose. We put in a little pop play for Dixon and he showed why he’s the best 2-point shooter in the league. Dixon hits the two to put us right back in it,” Kelly said. “They think we’re going to run the same play again, but instead this time Ben Hunt runs right to the goal and scores. We win the next faceoff, you see Kyle Hartzell taking the ball to the goal and figure we’re going to win, then the next thing you know it’s over and we’re all in shock.”

 Long stick defenseman Brian Farrell provided a spark with two unsettled goals for Boston, which outscored Chesapeake, 12-2, from the 3:26 mark of the second quarter until the 5:11 point of the fourth quarter. Midfielder Paul Rabil contributed a goal and an assist to a balanced attack for the Cannons, who had 10 different players put the ball in the back of the net.

“It’s a game of runs in this league. We had our runs early and late. They got their runs during the second and third quarters then we made another strong run at the end,” Kelly said. “It was very exciting, a great game to be part of. It will be one for the books for sure. Give all credit to Boston. They came up with the big save and big goal at the end and deserved to win.”

Kelly started Brian Carroll on attack and that move paid off as the second-year pro out of Virginia scored two goals to take Chesapeake to an early 6-1 lead. Defensive midfielders Matt Abbott and Jeff Reynolds both scored transition goals while the Bayhawks displayed superb ball movement in six-on-six situations, dominating the opening 25 minutes. Veteran Michael Evans played despite a nagging hamstring injury and anchored an aggressive, physical defense that really disrupted Boston’s high-powered offense.

 “We were fortunate to get up on them early. We came out and set the tone, kind of had them on their heels,” Kimmel said. “But Boston is a great team with a lot of firepower so you knew they were going to go on a run."

Dixon finished with four goals, one of which was the clutch 2-pointer. Hunt had a goal and four assists while Abbott added a goal and an assist.

“I think the real big difference in the game for us is that we struggled clearing the ball and they took advantage of that,” Kelly said. “Whenever we turned the ball over in our own end, they made us pay for it. I think they probably had four or five goals off our failed clears.”

Boston (10-3) advances to the MLL championship game for only the second time in franchise history. The Cannons, the only original franchise still in existence to not win a title, will seek to end their drought on Sunday against the winner of the second semi-final game, Denver or Hamilton.

 “Most people thought we were going to get blown out by these guys again, but we didn’t,” Kelly said. “We gave Boston all it could handle today and I’m really proud of our guys.”