Faceoffs prove decisive as Denver defeats Chesapeake, 13-12, in MLL playoffs

Chesapeake general manager and head coach Dave Cottle pulled a surprise by activating faceoff specialist Jonathon Paige from the practice squad for Saturday night’s playoff game against Denver.

Paige, a New Market (MD) resident who played at Division II Queens University, was making his Major League Lacrosse debut in the biggest game of the season.

Cottle was hoping to ease the loss of Stephen Kelly, Chesapeake’s season-long faceoff specialist who sustained a knee injury in the regular season finale at New York. However, Paige did not have much success against Denver’s Max Adler, winning just 4 of 12 faceoffs before being benched.

Having rolled the dice and lost, Cottle was forced to have long stick midfielder C.J. Costabile handle draws for almost the entire second half.

Adler dominated the faceoffs from start to finish and the possession edge he gave the visitors proved crucial. Every time the Bayhawks got some momentum going, the Outlaws won the ensuing faceoff and usually scored a goal to maintain control.

Adler went 21-for-29 at the faceoff stripe to lead third-seeded Denver to a 13-12 victory over No. 2 Chesapeake in the Major League Lacrosse semifinals before an announced crowd of 2,977 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“We just couldn’t overcome the lack of not having the ball,” Cottle acknowledged afterward. “We did everything we could to make up for that deficiency. We caused some turnovers and had a couple riding goals, but it wasn’t enough.”

Cottle was asked how he arrived at the decision to dress Paige, who did play for the Bayhawks during a preseason scrimmage against the Outlaws.

“Well he won faceoffs the other night in practice. We had one other option of playing six poles, but we weren’t sure how we would get them all in the game. It was the right move, it just didn’t work out,” Cottle said. “We had Plan B in effect, which was to use C.J. on faceoffs. We actually had to go to Plan C, which was double-poling the wings and that helped us a little more.”

Midfielder Zach Currier scored all four of his goals off wicked crank shots from just inside the 2-point arc for Denver (9-6), which advanced to the championship game for the eighth time in franchise history. Attackman Eric Law amassed six points on two goals and four assists for the Outlaws, who will be seeking their third title since 2014.

Attackman Kylor Bellistri contributed three goals and two assists for Denver, which will meet the winner of Saturday night’s other semifinal between Dallas and New York next Saturday at MUSC Stadium in Charleston, S.C.

Attackman Lyle Thompson scored four goals and assisted another for Chesapeake (9-6), which was seeking a return to the championship game for the first time since capturing the Steinfield Trophy in 2013. Attackman Josh Byrne and midfielder Myles Jones both totaled two goals and an assist for the Bayhawks, who made the playoffs following a four-year absence.

Goalkeeper Niko Amato recorded 14 saves as Chesapeake came close to overcoming the massive time of possession difference. The Bayhawks had the ball for most of the final two minutes, but could not net the equalizer.

“I was so proud of our team with how hard they played. They really cared and hustled their tails off tonight,” Cottle said.

Jones hit the top pipe with a left-handed crank shot with just under a minute to go. Chesapeake won a wild scramble for the loose ball and Denver was whistled for delay of the game. That gave the Bayhawks a power play opportunity with 35.7 seconds remaining.

Thompson got open on the left wing for a seven-yard shot, but it went wide just as the Denver penalty released. The Bayhawks had one last shot off an end line restart with 4.5 seconds left, but Thompson overthrew Byrne to spoil a set play.

Attackman Colin Heacock had barged his way to the cage for a tally that tied the game for the eighth time. The Boys’ Latin graduate managed to get off a short shot despite being held by a defender and second goal of the game, which made it 12-12 with 6:13 to go.

The Outlaws wound up scoring the game-winning goal as a result of a botched substitution by the Bayhawks. Cottle watched in disbelief as all three of Chesapeake’s offensive midfielders came off the field at the same time.

Denver capitalized on the numbers advantage with midfielder Mikie Schlosser dumping a pass down to attackman Matt Kavanagh for one-on-one shot with Amato from right on top of the crease to put the Outlaws ahead with 3:53 remaining in the game.

“It’s just a shame that our guys running off the field together comes to be the winning goal,” Cottle said. “Fatigue makes cowards of us all and they all ran out at the same time. We hadn’t done that all year.”

There were four ties and three lead changes during a back-and-forth first half that ended with Denver holding a 6-5 lead. Currier scored his second goal off a crank shot from up top with 47 seconds left in the second quarter to put the visitors ahead at intermission.

Byrne and Thompson totaled a goal and assist apiece for the Bayhawks, who used a 3-0 run to briefly take a 5-4 lead with 6:33 to go in the second quarter. Denver outshot Chesapeake 27-17 in the first half with Amato making nine saves to keep things close.

Paige went 3-for-11 on faceoffs during the first half then took the opening faceoff of the second half and lost again. That prompted Cottle to use Costabile the rest of the way.

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