Bayhawks end season with victory over Denver

Bill Wagner
Contact Reporterbwagner@capgaznews.com

Thursday night's regular season finale between the Denver Outlaws and host Chesapeake Bayhawks had no bearing on the postseason.

Denver had already locked up second seed in the Major League Lacrosse playoffs while Chesapeake had been eliminated from contention.

However, don't tell Bayhawks attackman Josh Byrne the game was meaningless.

Byrne came into the contest with a chance to set the Major League Lacrosse record for goals scored by a rookie. The former Hofstra University All-American accomplished the feat in spectacular fashion, scoring seven goals to easily surpass the mark of 34 that was established by Florida Launch attackman Kieran McArdle in 2014.

Byrne's big night helped Chesapeake come from behind to defeat Denver, 23-19, in front of a sparse crowd at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Thunderstorms that featured numerous lightning strikes caused a two-hour delay and the contest did not conclude until 11:20 p.m.

Flashy attackman Lyle Thompson totaled nine points on six goals and two assists for Chesapeake, which closed a roller coaster campaign with a 7-7 record. Thompson put the Bayhawks ahead to stay with a surprise 2-pointer set up by a hidden ball trick.

Chesapeake was on the power play when Thompson trotted to the middle of the field and pretended to flip the ball to midfielder Myles Jones. Instead, Thompson flipped the ball to himself then wound up and fired an underhanded shot past the unsuspecting goalie.

Rookie midfielder Jake Froccaro added seven points for the Bayhawks, who outscored the Outlaws 7-2 in the fourth quarter to rally. Midfielder Ryan Tucker (Gilman) added two goals and an assist for Chesapeake, which missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Rookie attackman Colin Heacock and second-year midfielder Myles Jones both contributed two assists for the Bayhawks, who scored 15 goals in the second half.

Byrne needed three goals to break the record and made that happen midway through the second quarter. The left-handed Canadian notched his 35th goal of the season with a nasty sidearm shot that zipped past the earhole of Denver keeper Jack Kelly with 7:19 remaining in the first half.

Moments later, Byrne got open on the crease and sent another sidearm delivery through the legs of Kelly. He capped the first-half scoring spree by beating his man from behind the cage and scoring with a nifty one-handed shot.

Byrne, Chesapeake's third-round pick in the 2017 MLL Collegiate Draft, finished the season with 39 goals in only nine games. The British Columbia native scored five goals or more in four games and led all of Major League Lacrosse in that category.

"Obviously, I was very fortunate to land with the Chesapeake Bayhawks, who have so many talented players that could get me the ball. A lot of times I wasn't doing much work other than tapping the ball into the net," Byrne said. "I really did not think it would be possible to score that many goals. I'm just really excited and very thankful that I was able to do what I did."

Byrne displayed tremendous versatility in his first year as a professional – dodging past defenders from the right wing, working hard to get open off-ball and also doing damage in catch-and-shoot situations.

After scoring 41 goals on 73 shots in 14 games as a senior at Hofstra, Byrne has produced 39 goals on 68 shots since joining Chesapeake in early June.

"It's definitely a little different from college. I'm not getting yelled at every time I take a shot," Byrne joked. "Seriously, it's just a more wide-open game and very fast-paced. With the shot clock, it's a lot more like what I'm used to with box lacrosse."

Byrne made Denver defenseman Edwin Glazener look silly on Thursday night – using a powerful bull dodge to beat him for one goal and a quick stutter step to juke him for another. Byrne's best goal of the night came when he drove past Glazener from behind the cage, turned the corner and scored off a difficult one-handed shot.

"Josh said before the game that he was going to do stuff that we haven't seen yet. We were all wondering what he's been holding back," Reese said with a smile. "That one-handed goal was pretty impressive. The kid has unbelievable talent. What I love is that he plays as hard off-ball and riding as he does with the ball in his stick."

Byrne is very adept at floating into open spaces and can finish from all angles even though he shoots exclusively left-handed. He scored another goal on Thursday night by dropping down and casually rolling the ball past Kelly while being clotheslined by Glazener.

"Josh is just a real crafty kid. Some of the moves he pulls off are amazing," Heacock said. "He's got great vision and if he gets the ball in scoring position he does not miss. It seems like every time he shoots the ball he scores."

Chesapeake finished in a seven-way tie for first place in MLL last season and failed to earn one of four spots in the postseason. A variety of tiebreaker scenarios went against the Bayhawks again this season so winning the season finale was all about pride.

"You always want to end the season strong no matter what the circumstances are. I think this game is a real testament to our character," Froccaro said. "We played hard the whole game, battled back and found a way to beat one of the best teams in the league."

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