The Baltimore Thunder opened its 10th season trying to do what it had not accomplished since its first: win a Major Indoor Lacrosse League title.
The Thunder got off to a good start last night at the Baltimore Arena, beating the Boston Blazers, 15-11, before 5,122 fans and showing a stingy defense that was nowhere to be found last season, when the team was last in the league in goals allowed.
"I was very pleased with our desire and intensity on defense," Thunder coach Skip Lichtfuss said. "We were very conscious of their interior game, and we tried not to give up any easy goals. I was also glad to see us out there cracking some people, and that became contagious. And J. J. Pearl really stepped up and proved he can be very successful in this league."
Goalie Pearl was the beneficiary of the beefed-up defensive play, stopping 35 of the 46 shots he faced, and Brian Kroneberger's four goals led the offense.
"The guys did a great job in front of me," Pearl said. "They must have got their sticks on 100 passes, no exaggeration. I started out a little slowly, but then I hit my stride."
Baltimore led for most of the game and was up 11-7 entering the final period before the Blazers made a late run. Boston pulled to within two on Daren Fridge's second and third goals of the game, but Lindsay Dixon, Todd Curry and Mark Millon scored goals 70 seconds apart midway through the fourth period to put the game away.
Neither team had trouble scoring in the first quarter. The Thunder and Blazers both scored on their first shots of the game. Boston's Bruce Chanenchuk then scored goals 58 seconds apart to give the Blazers their first lead. Two scores by Dave Robinson gave the Blazers a 4-2 lead.
Baltimore tied it on a give-and-go pass from Paul Cantabene to Jeff Klodzen, then scored on three of its first four shots in the second quarter.
Kroneberger scored the first two goals of the quarter to give the Thunder its first lead since the game's first minute. Rob Martino added his second goal of the night to extend Baltimore's lead to 7-4.
"I'm very happy," Kroneberger said. "I don't know if he [Marty O'Neill, Boston's goalie] forgot that I like to shoot there or what. I think I caught him off guard with a couple of shots. I'm not a great placer of the ball, but I got a lot on net tonight."
At the other end, Pearl stopped all 11 shots he faced in the second period. He got some help from his friends as well, as the Thunder's man-to-man scheme frustrated the Blazers' perimeter game, sealing off the area around the crease.
"We didn't let anybody cut across the middle," Pearl said. "Only one of their goals came on a cutter through the crease."
The Thunder stretched its lead to four in the third period, with Kroneberger getting his fourth of the night on a long blast with nearly two minutes left in the quarter to put Baltimore up 11-7.
"It's great to get some momentum going into our game with Philly [Jan. 13]," Pearl said. "We have to play the world champions on the road, and they've really handed our tails to us the last couple of times we've played them. It would have been tough to go in there 0-1."
NOTE: Last night's game will be replayed on ESPN2 on Friday at 9:30 p.m.