August 24, 2013

Outlaws Find MLL Playoff Disappointment Again

by Brian Logue | | Twitter

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CHESTER, Pa. – Following an eighth straight year of playoff disappointment, the Denver Outlaws could describe what went wrong, but they had no answer for why their season came to an early end once again.

“Today we didn’t play like we normally do,” said Denver’s Lee Zink, the MLL defenseman of the year the last two seasons and a seven-year Outlaws’ veteran. “Every year it’s something, we just have to figure it out.”

Eric Law had an MLL playoff record nine goals, but the Outlaws failed to win a league title for the eighth straight year, falling to Charlotte 17-14 in the semifinals.

© Kevin P. Tucker

A nightmare first quarter put Denver in an 8-2 hole against Charlotte and they couldn’t dig their way out, falling 17-14 in the semifinals at PPL Park despite a MLL playoff-record nine goals by rookie attackman Eric Law. Mike Sawyer and Matt Danowski each scored two-point goals for Charlotte in the Hounds’ decisive opening quarter, surprising given that the Outlaws had only given up three two-pointers in 14 regular season games.

Denver came into the game after completing the league’s first undefeated regular season (14-0) and was seeking its first MLL championship despite eight consecutive playoff appearances since 2006 and four trips to the championship game.

“We didn’t do any of what we had done all year to get us here,” said Denver coach Jim Stagnitta. “We made a lot of careless mistakes, didn’t respond to some things and didn’t take advantage of our opportunities. We just didn’t play well.”

The Outlaws struggled everywhere. Denver’s Jesse Schwartzman, the league’s goalie of the year, had a strong second half to finish with 13 saves, but made just six in the first half while giving up 11 goals, including the two two-pointers.

Schwartzman’s struggles mirrored the problems the defense had in front of him. Charlotte repeatedly got great looks at the cage, most notably Sawyer, who had four goals by creating his opportunities primarily on strong dodges.

“We didn’t take care of our individual matchups and they got a lot of easy goals,” said Zink.

Offensively, Denver generated little early on besides Law, who had six of the Outlaws’ seven first-half goals.

“We played a lot of 1-on-1 lacrosse, and in the first half didn’t have the ball a lot,” said Stagnitta. “That was one of the biggest differences in the game, the faceoffs.”

Charlotte’s Geoff Snider dominated faceoffs, finishing the game 17-of-25, and was especially effective against Denver’s duo of Anthony Kelly and Stephen Robarge in the first half. Charlotte won 15-of-20 in the first half.

As bad as the first half went, the Outlaws trailed by only six, 13-7, at halftime. It was far from unfamiliar territory. Denver trailed Long Island 8-2 in the semifinals of last year’s playoffs before rallying for a 13-12 victory. Could they do it again?

“That’s what we hoped,” said Zink.

Denver controlled most of the third quarter and got a huge momentum boost when Zack Greer scored just before the third period expired on a full-field outlet pass by Schwartzman that cut Charlotte’s lead to 14-10. Back-to-back goals by Law and Justin Pennington to open the fourth quarter gave Denver a five-goal run and cut it to 14-12 with 7:24 remaining in the game.

It looked like Denver might get closer when Chris Bocklet threw a long pass to a streaking Brendan Mundorf just a minute later, but Mundorf stepped in the crease trying to handle the pass and turned it over. Moments later Sawyer scored for Charlotte to end the run and the Hounds held on for the win.

The Outlaws hadn’t played since beating Hamilton 18-12 on August 10, but Stagnitta thought his team was ready to go.

“We practiced fine,” he said. “It’s always a crapshoot when you have two weeks off. We were in a good frame of mind and we seemed to be on point with the practices we had. Every mistake we made seemed to come right back at us. Those couple of twos they made in the first quarter made a big difference in the game.”

For Denver, it leads to another off-season of what-ifs and hard work ahead. Before the game, Stagnitta told his team that the game wasn’t about the 14 games of work they had put in, it was about a year of work following the disappointment of last year’s championship game loss to Chesapeake.

And now it begins again.

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