Baltimore Thunder goalkeeper Kevin Bilger knows what it's like to be on standby.
During his high school lacrosse days at Calvert Hall, Bilger waited behind the Cardinals' starting keeper, Tom Sears, who later earned All-America honors at North Carolina before starting in goal for the U.S. World Team.
After walking on and making the team at Maryland, Bilger again found himself second on the depth chart, this time under another Calvert Hall alumnus, Kevin O'Leary.
Throughout his rather innominate career in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, Bilger has drifted in and out of starting roles. Drafted by the Philadelphia Wings in 1987, Bilger worked his way into some major minutes in the net and eventually helped the Wings claim back-to-back world championships in 1989 and 1990.
After spending the next three seasons sputtering with the now-defunct Pittsburgh franchise, the 6-foot-3, 175-pounder decided it was time to come home and play for the Thunder and first-year coach Skip Lichtfuss, who also coaches Bilger on Mount Washington Tavern's highly successful club team.
When Bilger joined the Thunder, he found himself in the position as backup behind not only one, but two goalies, in David Lee and J. J. Pearl.
When given the opportunity, Lee and Pearl both gave formidable efforts, but with them in the net, the Thunder didn't win.
With Baltimore's playoff hopes hinging on its final two regular-season games, Lichtfuss turned to Bilger against a New York Saints team that Bilger enjoyed success against while playing for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The 33-year-old goalie responded by turning away 39 shots in a )) 12-10 victory two weeks ago. Bilger was named the game's Most Valuable Player and the MILL's Player of the Week, but more importantly, he gave some meaning to tonight's final regular-season contest against the Saints.
Bilger has been given the nod again for tonight's single-elimination game, and while he concedes that the pressure is mounting, he maintains that he would be just as nervous viewing the game from the bench.
"A backup goalie is just as important as the starter if not more because you have to be ready to go with no warm-up," said Bilger, who works for his family's Long Green Nurseries in Lutherville.
"When you're on the sidelines, you're not only cheering on your teammates but you have to keep your head in the game. This league gets pretty intense whether you're on the bench or on the field."
Opponent: New York Saints
Site: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
Outlook: The winner will meet the Philadelphia Wings in the American Division championship game while the loser finishes 1-7. The Thunder, which kept its postseason hopes alive by defeating the New York Saints, 12-10, two Saturdays ago, is led by Lindsay Dixon (11 goals, 9 assists), Tim Welsh (11, 8) and Jeff Wills (5, 12). Saints All-Pro G Sal LoCascio leads the league with 38 saves a game and teammate Andy Kraus is one of the MILL's top faceoff men. Kraus leads his team in goals with 11, but Mike Cummings is the Saints' points leader, with eight goals and eight assists.