August 27, 2011

Hamilton Sends Denver to Another Early Exit

by Matt DaSilva |

Hurricane-like conditions did not slow Casey Powell, a late-season addition to the Hamilton Nationals who had a goal and three assists Saturday in their 11-9 MLL semifinal victory over the Denver Outlaws.

© John Strohsacker/

MLL Semifinal Saturday

* Five Things to Watch in the MLL Championship Game
* Hamilton Sends Denver to Another Early Exit
* Quinzani Goal with 1.2 Seconds Left Lifts Boston
* MLL Championship Weekend Played Through Hurricane Irene

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Not even Hurricane Irene could wash away the Denver Outlaws' perennial playoff doldrums. The second-seeded Outlaws, who have advanced to Major League Lacrosse's championship weekend in each of their six seasons but have never won the Steinfeld Cup, fell 11-9 to the third-seeded Hamilton Nationals at storm-soaked Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in the semifinals Saturday.

Hamilton will face top-seeded Boston, which defeated defending champion Chesapeake on a last-second goal by Max Quinzani in Saturday's first semifinal, in the MLL championship game Sunday at 3 p.m. (ESPN2).

"It's funny. This is my sixth time in the playoffs," said Denver attackman Brendan Mundorf. "And never getting the championship, it's just like, when is it our turn? I don't have an answer for why we can't get it done."

Late-season addition Casey Powell had a goal and three assists for the Nationals, who jumped to a 6-1 lead in the first quarter and held off the Outlaws the rest of the way. Midfielders Jordan Hall, Joe Walters and David Earl added two goals apiece for Hamilton, which missed the MLL playoffs last year after winning the Steinfeld Cup as the Toronto Nationals in 2009.

The Nationals maintained their lead throughout thanks to Geoff Snider's 16-for-24 performance in slushy faceoff scrums and a resourceful defense that rotated short sticks on Mundorf and Billy Bitter.

"Anytime you have bad weather, it comes down to ground balls, possessions and exchanges," said Brodie Merrill, Hamilton's six-time MLL Defensive Player of the Year who scooped six ground balls.

Bitter was the lone bright spot for the Denver offense with three goals and an assist. The Outlaws managed just 15 shots on goal against the packed-in Nationals defense which channeled all of its slides through the middle. While Denver's one-on-one attempts turned into one-and-done possessions, Hamilton proved patient and unselfish. Eight different players scored for the Nationals.

Denver twice pulled within one. The first time came with 3:42 left in the second quarter, when Bitter capped a 5-1 Outlaws run to make it 7-6 Hamilton. But attackman Jeremy Boltus, the MLL Rookie of the Year, converted a feed from Walters with just 11 seconds remaining to put the Nationals back up by two at halftime.

The second time came with 12:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, as Denver midfielder Peet Poillon took advantage of a rare Merrill misstep and scored to make it 10-9 Hamilton. But Powell showed youthful speed and a veteran's touch on the game's final goal with 8:42 left. He dodged the left alley, got pushed from behind and shot the ball off Denver goalie Jesse Schwartzman's shoulder and into the goal as he fell to the turf.

Powell, 35, is the MLL's all-time scoring leader. He lives fulltime in Florida as the director of lacrosse for Saint Andrew's School, but was coaxed out of retirement in late July by Nationals assistant coach Gary Gait. He last played in the league in 2008, choosing instead to focus on his indoor game and the National Lacrosse League.

"I came back to win a title, and here we are going into championship Sunday," he said. "It looked bad on TV but it was actually great footing, and the rain kept us cool... I questioned the fact we were going to play when all the other sporting events on the eastern seaboard were cancelled. But it's good that we got it in, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

Tempers flared as time wound down. Denver squandered its final opportunity with a turnover, the result of an off-ball crease violation. The Outlaws double-teamed Walters with Poillon and midfielder Brian Langtry on the ensuing clear. Play stopped with 9.1 seconds remaining after several slashes, to which Walters responded with a choking gesture. Langtry took umbrage and was ejected from the game after hitting Walters in the head with his stick.

"Every year, Denver and Boston are the teams to beat. I think it says something that they haven't won yet," Walters said afterward. "Sometimes they come out arrogant and expecting to win. We're hungry. Kudos to them though, they're a good team. I think it just shows that in a two-game format, anyone in this league can win. We're just coming together at the right time."

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