BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - It was a brand-new entity, but it was old man Paul Gait who yesterday provided Major League Lacrosse with its biggest performance.
Gait, 33, burned the Bayhawks for seven goals, and lifted the Long Island Lizards to the inaugural MLL championship with a 15-11 victory before 6,745 at Kennedy Stadium.
"This is for all the old guys," Gait said after being named the game's Most Valuable Player.
Old, indeed. It had been believed that the former Syracuse University star was on his last legs, that his retirement from the game was imminent.
Gait's statements earlier in the year helped fuel that notion.
But against the Bayhawks' defense, which had been the MLL's second stingiest, Gait left the running to the younger men. He let his stick do the talking.
"They just kept leading me," he said. "The boys were very unselfish, and the guy left standing open in the crease is usually the guy that's going to get chances to score. They [Bayhawks] left me alone. ... I didn't have to move my feet too much."
But his hands were busy. He put all but two of his nine shots past Bayhawks goalie Greg Cattrano.
"He was just doing what he does well," said Cattrano, who had 16 saves, many brilliant. "He was just taking what we gave him."
Both teams had 11-4 records, including narrow semifinal wins Saturday.
The Bayhawks had swept the season series, 2-0, and appeared ready to pull off a trifecta when they took a 3-1 lead barely five minutes into the game.
But when Gait got going, things began to crumble for the Bayhawks, and by halftime, they were down 8-4.
Goals by Dan Denihan, Tom Marechek and Paul Cantabene had given them that early edge, with Cantabene converting a give-and-go from Marechek with 9:10 left in the period.
But from that point on, it was all Long Island. More to the point, it was all Gait.
"I thought they were playing us well offensively," Bayhawks coach Brian Voelker said, "and we didn't have an answer."
Setting up just off the right post, Gait scored four times before halftime.
His first goal came after Casey Powell had spotted him from the high slot.
Gait cashed in to cut the lead to 3-2.
He struck three more times in the second quarter, in which the Bayhawks were outscored 5-1.
The back-breaking blow, for all practical purposes, came with seconds left before halftime.
Lizards longstick Pat McCabe threw a 70-yard "Hail Mary" pass from deep in his end, which Gait corralled, then swept past Cattrano.
"He [McCabe] launched it up," Gait said, "and I saw the [defenseman] go for it. I'm thinking to myself, 'He's not going to catch that. ... He can't catch that.' Sure enough, it ended up right in my stick, and I had enough time to put it in the net."
With two periods left, the Bayhawks had time to mount a comeback, but the best they could do was cut the lead to 8-6 with 11:21 left in the third.
Long Island answered goals from Mark Millon and Rob Shek with a run of four, and never looked back.
Long Island 3 5 4 3 - 15 Bayhawks 3 1 5 1 - 11
Goals: LI-P. Gait 7, Riordan 3, Powell 2, Radebaugh, G. Gait, Finneran; B-Marechek 2, Cantabene 2, Sims 2, Shek 2, Millon, Fulks, McCavera. Assists: LI-Radebaugh 3, Powell 2, Haugen 2, P. Gait, Riordan, McCabe, Finneran; B-Denihan 2, Marechek 2, McCavera. Saves: LI-LoCasio 19; B-Cattrano 16.