It seemed hard to believe the Chesapeake Bayhawks had only played two home games by mid-June.
Major League Lacrosse dealt the Bayhawks a tough schedule that called for five road games during the first two months of the season.
Chesapeake proved up to the challenge, winning four of five on the road to get off to a good start. Now things turn around and the Bayhawks play five of their next six contests at home.
“In this league, if you take care of your home field and split on the road you’re going to have a good season,” head coach Dave Cottle said. “We have put ourselves in good position by having success on the road. Now we need to capitalize on this favorable stretch of home games.”
Goalkeeper Niko Amato stopped 15 shots to spearhead an impressive defensive performance as the Bayhawks began the extended homestand on a positive note by beating the Atlanta Blaze 9-6 on Saturday night before an announced crowd of 3,974 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“I think Niko has been unbelievable for the last three games. He makes tough saves and bails our defense out a little bit,” Cottle said. “To hold a team to six goals in this league is tough to do so that tells you that Niko and the defense were outstanding tonight.”
Veteran attackman Steele Stanwick scored four goals for Chesapeake (6-2), which won its fifth straight game. Attackman Matt Danowski, a United States national team member, added a goal and four assists as the Bayhawks outscored the Blaze 4-1 in the fourth quarter.
Stanwick sat out last season while focusing on his responsibilitie as an assistant coach with the Johns Hopkins women’s lacrosse program and his business. He has made a nice comeback following the long layoff and now has 13 goals in five games with the Bayhawks.
“Steele is just a very good player. He does a great job of organizing the offense and putting people in the right spots. He had some scoring chances tonight and was very efficient as far as finishing,” Cottle said. “Steele is a first-class person in addition to being an excellent lacrosse player and he has made our team better.”
Rookie Stephen Kelly captured some clutch faceoffs down the stretch for Chesapeake, which took a big step toward reaching the postseason for the first time since capturing the MLL championship in 2013. Cottle didn’t want to talk about the current winning streak or the prospect of making the playoffs following a four-year absence.
“We want to make it six in a row. We have to move forward and treat the next game like the most important one of the season,” Cottle said. “We need to play a lot better lacrosse than we have so far in order to get where we want to go. I don’t care about the playoffs. All I care about is the next one.”
Midfielder Deemer Class (Loyola-Blakefield) scored three goals to lead Atlanta (3-5), who have lost three straight. Rookie midfielder Christian Cuccinello had a goal and two assists for the Blaze,
Stanwick had a hat trick by halftime as Chesapeake took a 4-3 lead into the break. Danowski assisted on two of Stanwick’s goals and added one of his own as the Bayhawks rallied from an early 3-1 deficit.
Jones used a tremendous individual move to score unassisted and increase Chesapeake’s advantage to 5-3 at the 8:29 mark of the third quarter. However, attackman Kevin Rice scored to end an 18-minute drought by the visitors and Class followed with a wicked crank shot as Atlanta tied the score at five with 5:50 left in the third quarter.
Atlanta took its first lead since the late in the second quarter when Rice found Class cutting to the crease for a point-blank shot that made it 6-5 with 10:23 to go. Chesapeake responded just six seconds later as Kelly captured the faceoff and raced right to the net for a short shot that tied the score.
Rookie midfielder Ian MacKay put the Bayhawks back ahead with 8 ½ minutes left, collecting a loose ball in front of the cage and flipping the ball past Ghitelman to make it 7-6.
Stanwick scored his fourth goal of the game to give the Bayhawks a two-goal advantage with 5:56 to go, firing an underhanded worm burner after once again getting dump-down feed from Danowski.
Close defenseman Gareme Hossack, a star in the National Lacrosse League, did a super job of covering Chesapeake attackman Josh Byrne. Hossack is familiar with Byrne from the indoor professional league and shut down the 2017 MLL Rookie of the Year.
Byrne scored his lone goal of the game when he was left wide open by Hossack, who had to slide to prevent Danowski from taking an uncontested shot. Danowski dished to Byrne, who scored the clinching goal with 58.9 seconds remaining.