Are you starved for some great lacrosse or just want to see some hard-hitting action on a weeknight in Baltimore? Well, the Baltimore Indoor Lacrosse League (BILL) entered the playoffs this week and you can check out the action for free this Tuesday and Thursday, and next week as well. They play at the Du Burns Arena in Canton, where teams have squared off every Tuesday and Friday this season. I spoke the commissioner of the BILL, Hunter Francis, today, about the league and this week's playoffs.
Francis, who was the co-commissioner from 2000-2005 and then again in 2008, still plays the game. He was the goalkeeper for Tricerat in the quarterfinals last week, and they lost to, of all people, the E-Lacrosse team, which will play the daunting Smartlink squad in the semis. Smartlink beat Sandy Point in the quarterfinals.
The league is chock full of college lacrosse stars. Players like Bugsy Combs, Spencer Ford, Ben DeFelice, Sean Nadelin, Casey Connor, Dan Morohl, Erik Miller, Kevin Huntley, Jake Byrne, Hunter Lochte and more. The E-Lacrosse team features the only woman who's ever played in the National Lacrosse League in goalkeeper Ginny Capicchioni, and she's darn good. According to Hunter, Dan Marohl, who plays for Tricerat, is the best player in league, but the MVP would be Smartlink's Spencer Ford, if they had one.
The league is fortunate to have six NLL referees with lots of experience. Mike Ventura is the chief of referees. He was an NLL and World Indoor Lacrosse referee and goes back to the old Eagle Indoor Lacrosse League in the early 1980s.
This is the 24th year of the BILL. The league was started by Marc Hoffman and some others back in the day as a training league for the Eagle league. For the first ten years, the stars of the Baltimore Thunder and Washington Wave used the league to prepare for the Eagle seasons. The mission of the league is still to "expose great field players to the subtleties of box lacrosse," Francis says.
"This is the environment for our indigenous players to learn the game," Francis said. And there's plenty to learn. The two-man game or breaking down defenses into two-on-one situations is a key in box lacrosse. In box there is a complete reliance on one hand. There's no premium for playing with two hands. You're a righty or a lefty. The accelerated pace is different and, of course, players in box lacrosse shoot on little goals with huge goalies (at least their pads are). Also, board play is a new experience for most, not just getting hit into one but reacting to errant passes and missed shots that remain in play. There are very few out-of-bounds balls in box lacrosse.
The BILL plays with modified NLL rules. There's watered-down cross checking and boarding. This means that a player is allowed to cross check once during an encounter with an opposing player. In the NLL, you can do it over and over while defending against a player with the ball. Here, more than one cross check will get you some time in the penalty box. In the BILL, dasher marks are located three feet from the boards. They signify an area between them and the unforgiving wooden sideboards where the defender has to play the man. Outside of those dasher marks toward the open field area, the defender can play the man, which means hit his body with no intention of going for the ball.
Kevin Huntley represents the way the league works. "He's a prime example of what the league is all about" Francis said. "He's found his sea legs in the league and could take the NLL by storm as an impact player this year, if he plays."
Huntley runs on the Pickled Parrot squad with George Castle. Francis also bets that George Castle will make the Philadelphia Wings squad this year. Dan Marohl was traded by the Wings to the Minnesota Swarm this year and according to Francis is the best American box player by far. The NLL training camps started during the past week or so and out of 139 BILL players, 13 were invited to camp and 10 are already with a team.
There are only three such leagues in the country as far as I know, with the BILL being the top preparatory experience for the NLL. The Philadelphia Indoor Lacrosse League and Washington Metropolitan Box Lacrosse League, which is run by a friend of mine, Marty Joiner, have been formed more recently.
Hunter thinks the playoffs will be as exciting as ever this year, but that one team, Smartlink, has a good chance of winning it all. Smartlink has won three BILL championships in a row. E-lacrosse lost to them in the finals in 2007 and 2006. In fact, Smartlink has only lost once in four years, and that was with short numbers against Dewalt this year. They are 48-1 in the past four years. "They move the ball so well," says the commish. "They are big and physical. Zach Burke, Sean Nadelin and Casey Connor are easily the best defense. Bugsy is a spectacular shooter and Spencer Ford is the playmaker. Smartlink is really good."
Two teams have won five straight championships in the history of the BILL, LaxWorld in the 1980s and Rebel Lacrosse Wear in the '90s. One team that may give Smartlink trouble is the Pickled Parrot. The Parrot lost 11-9 to Smartlink this season and with Huntley coming on strong lately, the final could be great if that's the matchup.
The remaining quarterfinals will be played this Tuesday at 6 p.m. DeWalt plays the Baltimore Lacrosse Club in the first matchup and Cummings & Company plays the Pickled Parrot for the last semifinal slot at 7 p.m. The winners will play Thursday night at 6. Smartlink and E-Lacrosse will play in the other semifinal. "The semis are always barn burners," Francis said.
The finals are Nov. 25 at 6:45 p.m. at Du Burns Arena. Attendance to all games is free.
The Pickled Parrot bar and restaurant, not coincidentally, is only a block away and is the watering hole for the league. Spectators are invited to join the teams after the games for beverages and some great food every week including the playoffs. See you out there!