Thompson hat trick not enough as Bayhawks beaten by Blaze

High-scoring attackman Lyle Thompson had a hat trick in his 2018 season debut for the Chesapeake Bayhawks, whose late comeback came up short in a 12-11 loss to the Atlanta Blaze at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Georgia on Thursday night.

Thompson was sharp from the outset in his first outdoor professional game since 2017, using his stick-handling wizardy and array of crafty moves to score three goals. Josh Byrne, playing midfield instead of attack on this night, also had a hat trick for the Bayhawks.

“Lyle is a great player and he did some really good things tonight,” Chesapeake head coach Dave Cottle said. “We’re glad to have Lyle back with the team and he will get better with every game going forward.”

Goalkeeper Niko Amato did all he could to keep Chesapeake in the game by making 17 saves, several of the spectacular variety. Midfielder Matt Abbot contributed two goals and an assist while long stick midfielder Matt Rees scored a clutch 2-point goal for the Bayhawks (8-4), who have lost two straight following a seven-game winning streak.

“We have to get back to playing winning lacrosse, which means sharing the ball and playing together,” Cottle said. “We are still in good position and control our own destiny. We host Denver on Saturday night and we need to win that game.”

Faceoffs were a crucial component in this contest as Atlanta’s Joe Nardella captured 14 of 24 in his battle with Stephen Kelly. Nardella was particularly strong in the first half as the Blaze built a big lead they would never relinquish.

“I thought we got beat up at the faceoff X in the first half and that really set the tone,” Cottle said. “We played terrible defense in the first half. Guys were running past us left and right. Offensively, we turned the ball over way too much to beat a good team.”

Atlanta did a superb job of defending Chesapeake leading scorers Colin Heacock and Myles Jones, who were held to one goal between them. Heackock, the team’s top scorer with 35 points, was held scoreless.

It didn’t take long for Thompson to make an impact as he scored a goal on his first shot of the 2018 season. Thompson drove hard to the cage from goal-line extended and scored from the doorstep while absorbing a hard check, giving the Bayhawks an early 1-0 lead.

Byrne scored on a similarly strong move to the goal from the right wing and Rees finished a transition opportunity with a wicked crank shot from beyond the arc, canning a 2-pointer that put Chesapeake ahead 4-1 with 9 ½ minutes elapsed.

It was all Atlanta the rest of the way with attackman Kevin Rice scoring twice to spark a 5-0 run over the final six minutes of the opening period as the home team moved ahead, 7-4.

Atlanta’s margin grew to 8-4 before Chesapeake mounted a comeback. Thompson dropped his shoulder and drove hard into a defender before suddenly backpedaling to create space and firing a short shot that stuck the top corner. Jones stopped on a dime, spun back and unleashed a cannon blast of a crank shot that cut the deficit to 8-6 with 4:30 remaining in the first half.

Nardella gave the Blaze a commanding edge at the faceoff stripe in the first half, winning 12 of 14. Nardella did a good job of pushing the ball ahead and created two goals directly from the faceoff.

Chesapeake played some serious lockdown defense in order to get back into the game, holding Atlanta scoreless for almost 22 minutes spanning most of the second and third quarters. Midfielder Christian Cuccinello ended the lengthy drought with a goal at the 5:47 mark of the third quarter to start a 3-0 run that gave the Blaze an 11-6 lead.

Thompson fought his way to the front of the net and somehow got off a shot despite being harassed by two defenders as the Bayhawks closed the gap to four goals going into the final frame.

There was a scary moment one minute into the fourth quarter as a hard shot by midfielder Deemer Class drilled Chesapeake defender Nick Manis in the face mask. Manis, a second-year pro out of Maryland, lay on the field in obvious pain for several minutes before being able to leave the field under his own power.

The Bayhawks made one last push early in the final stanza, scoring twice in the span of just over a minute to get within 12-9 with 9:16 remaining. Abbott dodged from behind and used a brilliant one-hand flip shot to score at 10:32. Byrne then battled through a double-team and got free for a point-blank shot.

Abbott continued the rally when he dodged down the left alley and used a quick release to surprise the goalie and beat him off the hip. Abbott then fed Byrne for a crank shot that made it a one-goal game, 12-11, with 2:49 remaining in the game.

Chesapeake had a golden opportunity to tie when it was awarded a power play due to a slashing penalty on Nardella with just under two minutes to go. Midfielder Jeremy Sieverts got open for a high percentage shot from the left wing, but Ghitelman made an incredible save on a low shot that was headed for the five-hole.

The Bayhawks had one last shot to tie after regaining possession in the final minute. Cottle called timeout with 12 seconds left to set up a final play, but it clearly did not transpire as diagrammed. Abbott passed the ball to Byrne up top and he tried to press the middle of the field. However, Byrne was quickly doubled and tried to dish to a teammate, but the pass was off target and the ball rolled out of bounds as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

“We tried to run a play in which we would dodge and draw a slide, but it just didn’t work out,” Cottle said. “What I was most proud of tonight is that our team never quit. We kept battling and fighting until the end.”

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