Teams on opposite ends of the Major League Lacrosse spectrum met Thursday night in Annapolis.
For the Denver Outlaws, who entered in second place and had clinched one of four playoff spots, the motivation was to secure home-field advantage in the postseason.
For the Chesapeake Bayhawks, who already had been eliminated from playoff contention and were tied for last place, it was strictly a case of playing for pride.
In a nationally televised game, the Outlaws took a big step toward hosting a playoff game at Invesco Field and sent the Bayhawks to a historic low.
Attackman John Grant Jr. had four goals and four assists as Denver built a big first-half lead, then held on for an 18-16 victory before an announced 6,176 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
A former All-American at Delaware, Grant scored twice in the first quarter to move past Kevin Leveille (277) of the Rochester Rattlers on the MLL career goals list. Grant, who is third on the indoor National Lacrosse League goals list (562), now has 280 career goals in MLL.
This is the first year MLL is playing its semifinals at the home sites of the top two seeds, and Grant said it's important to Denver to host.
“We needed that win to accomplish our goals,” Grant said. “We've got a great fan base there that is really rabid about the Outlaws, and it would be nice to give them a home playoff game in this new format.”
Chris Bocklet scored three goals while fellow attackman Eric Law (Salisbury) had three goals and an assist for Denver (9-4), which has won five straight meetings with Chesapeake. Goalkeeper Jesse Schwartzman (Johns Hopkins, Pikesville) recorded 17 saves for the Outlaws, who gave up a six-goal advantage before finishing strong to escape with the win.
“During parts of that game, we played really well, but we need to get more consistent,” Grant said. “We've had some lapses over the last three or four weeks that we need to eliminate. We just have to get rid of the distractions and play with more focus and intensity.”
Attackmen Drew Westervelt (UMBC, John Carroll) and Brendan Mundorf (UMBC) both finished with four points to lead Chesapeake, which tied the game in the third quarter after a strong surge. Ben Hunt (Severna Park) scored three goals while fellow midfielder Joe Walters (Maryland) added three assists for the Bayhawks (4-9), who equaled the franchise record for most losses in a season, set in 2009.
“I thought, in the first half, we let outside factors that we couldn't control get in the way of a game,” said Chesapeake coach Dave Cottle, referring to the four penalties the Bayhawks drew. “We argued with the refs, we mouthed off, we got unsportsmanlike (conduct) because we didn't like the calls. In the second half, we just played the game.”
Chesapeake was competitive for the first 10 minutes, scoring three straight goals to erase an early 2-0 deficit. Short-stick defensive midfielder Jeff Reynolds (Maryland, Calvert Hall) scooped up a ground ball and went coast to coast for an unassisted goal that sparked the hosts. Midfielder Kevin Crowley came out of the substitution box to score off an assist from Mundorf, who used a pick to lose defenseman Lee Zink (Maryland) for an unassisted goal that gave the Bayhawks their only lead of the game: 3-2, with 8:22 remaining in the opening period.
It was all downhill from there. Denver took total control with a 7-0 run that featured a goal and two assists by Grant, a key member of Chesapeake's back-to-back championship teams in 2012 and 2013.
Midfielder Terry Kimener (UMBC) had a goal and assist during the decisive stretch, which gave Denver a 9-3 lead with just more than five minutes remaining in the first half. Attackman Ben Rubeor (St. Paul's) ended an 18 1/2 -minute drought for Chesapeake by recovering a loose ball and firing in a 10-yard shot, but Colin Dunster scored with just seven seconds left to send the Outlaws into halftime with a 10-4 advantage.
Chesapeake coach Dave Cottle pulled starting goalie Tyler Fiorito (McDonogh) with 5:09 left in the first half in favor of backup Jack Runkel (Loyola Maryland), but Fiorito returned for the entire second half.
Chesapeake mounted a comeback in the third quarter, outscoring the visitors 7-1 to tie it at 11. Westervelt scored two goals, one of them a 2-pointer on an overhand crank shot, during the rally. Hunt also netted two goals during the run. An exchange of goals in the final five minutes of the period made it 12-12 going into the fourth quarter.
“It was tough to go down by six in the first half, but at halftime, we said our goal was to come out and play with great effort,” Walters said. “I was really proud of the team and how we fought back in the second half. We settled down, corrected some mistakes and played our game.”
Denver regained control early in the final period as Grant assisted Law for a goal, then scored himself off a hard, underhanded shot. Hunt took a nice feed from defensive midfielder Dan Burns (Maryland, Severna Park), absorbed a big hit and scored a transition goal to briefly halt the momentum. But Bocklet scored consecutive goals and Grant completed his big night with his fourth score to push the Outlaws' lead to 17-13 with 4:07 to go.
Chesapeake would not go away, responding with three unanswered goals to close the gap to 17-16 with 1:13 left. Walters assisted on back-to-back power-play goals by Westervelt and Mundorf to give the Bayhawks a chance.
But Denver won the ensuing faceoff and called timeout to set up a play that produced a clinching goal by Law, who ended up one-on-one with Fiorito on top of the crease.