August 25, 2012

Bayhawks Vets Step Up, Answer Questions in Semifinal Win

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Chesapeake Bayhawks are a team built for the postseason, according to head coach Dave Cottle, featuring a collection of veteran all-stars with championship resumes at nearly every position. But within that playoff-tested lineup, there were also some unknowns on the turf Saturday at Harvard Stadium when Chesapeake took on the home-standing Boston Cannons in the Major League Lacrosse semifinals.

Would goalie Kip Turner get his first career playoff win, against the team he played for the five seasons prior?

John Grant, Jr. (above) scored two first-half goals, Kyle Dixon tallied back-to-back 2-pointers to give Chesapeake its first lead and Ben Rubeor scored five times in the second half to help Chesapeake to a 16-10 win over Boston on Saturday in the MLL semifinals at Harvard Stadium.
© Bryce Vickmark 

How would faceoff specialist Alex Smith look in his second game back from major surgery?

And just how would Chesapeake's defense approach Boston's key playmakers Ryan Boyle and Paul Rabil? Boyle scored eight points against them just four weeks ago in the regular season and Rabil was named the league's offensive player of the year for the third time.

Those questions were answered emphatically and the Bayhawks' old reliables came through in an comprehensive 16-10 win over Boston in front of 8,090 fans. Second-seeded Chesapeake will face the top-seeded Denver Outlaws in the MLL championship at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Kyle Dixon, the league's 2-point king, turned the game in Chesapeake's favor with consecutive 2-point goals from nearly the identical spot on the right wing to give the Bayhawks a 9-7 lead. Ben Rubeor finished with a season-high six goals on eight shots. He scored five in the second half when the Bayhawks outscored Boston 7-2. Rubeor worked off-ball efficiently to find open looks in the middle of the field. John Grant, Jr. was also involved early with a pair of first-half goals.

"They come at you in waves," said Cannons goalie Jordan Burke, who finished with 18 saves. "Today all their guys stepped up. It's tough to stop everyone."

Turner, Burke's goalie counterpart who was a little shaky early, settled in to finish with 14 saves, 10 of which came in the second half. Playing against the team that left him unprotected in the offseason expansion draft and matched by an impressive showing by Burke, Turner deflected praise toward the defense in front of him.

On that defense many names are known: Johns Hopkins alum Michael Evans on Friday was named all-pro for the second straight season. On Saturday, he drew the assignment of guarding Boyle and held him scoreless. Evans typically had drawn crease attackman Matt Poskay in previous meetings between Boston and Chesapeake this season. Veterans Brian Spallina and Nicky Polanco also made their presence known, as usual, with their emotional brand of lacrosse.




Then there is someone whom Evans called "the best kept secret in lacrosse." It's former Stevenson defenseman Michael Simon, a 6-foot-5 athletic, long-stick midfielder who drew the assignment of being Rabil's primary marker. It was only Simon's second game this season and third in his MLL career. He played in one game in 2010 with the Bayhawks before getting a shot at playing time late this season. Simon and long pole Barney Ehrmann helped limit Rabil to no goals and two assists.

"He's a beast. He's all man. He's the best," Turner said of the unknown Simon.

Meanwhile, Cottle said Smith, the veteran Team USA faceoff specialist making just his second appearance since Tommy John surgery on his left arm last September, is the "best faceoff guy of all-time."

Smith won 16-of-28 faceoffs against John Ortolani, Boston's backup who was playing in place of injured starter Chris Eck (knee). Smith won 13-of-17 first-half faceoffs to help keep the Bayhawks in it early as they missed shots or had them gobbled up by Burke. Ortolani and the Cannons' wings were more successful in the second half, but Turner came up with big saves while Rubeor had no problems finding space to score and build a lead.

"I was working off-ball," Rubeor said. "I can't take credit for a lot of those goals, maybe not take credit for any of them."

"Every time I turned around he was scoring," Cottle said, "and then at the end somebody told me he had five or six. He saved his best game of the season for today."

In the final minutes of the game, fans behind the Boston bench chanted "Thank-you, Can-nons," a nod to their season, which had them win three straight games at the end of the regular season to make the playoffs.

"It's an odd feeling," Rabil said afterward. "The possession battle went their way based on calls, draws, transition, maybe loose balls, too. When you're as deep as this Chesapeake team, you're going to cash in."

Sunday's championship puts the veteran-heavy Bayhawks against Denver, a team that rallied from nine goals down early in the second half of Saturday's first semifinal to beat the Long Island Lizards 13-12. The playing status of Brendan Mundorf, the league MVP held out of Denver's win with a lower leg injury, is a question mark as Outlaws coach Jim Stagnitta is taking a wait-and-see approach.

In any event, Cottle said the Bayhawks would need to be prepared for a great passing team, a quality that helped finisher Chris Bocklet — the rookie from Virginia — end up with six goals in the comeback win over Long Island.

"We better come up with a plan to stop them," Cottle said before leaving Harvard Stadium to do just that.


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