Jared Welsh, LTR Mid-Atlantic
It was a very different feel at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium today as Major League Lacrosse kicked off its week long tournament. The home of the Chesapeake Bayhawks is used to hosting big time lacrosse game, but never in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Coming to the stadium was exciting and familiar having covered the Bayhawks for the last 10 years, but I knew it was going to be different. The empty stadium and lack of music or PA announcements was very eerie as the teams were warming up.
The hometown Bayhawks drew the first game taking on an old, and somewhat familiar rival in the Philadelphia Barrage. Major League Lacrosse added a few wrinkles to the week long tournament. A brighter colored ball has already paid off in terms of visibility and splitting the sidelines to help distance players and personnel as much as possible. Usually in odd situations, it’s the familiarity of the game that makes everything seem right. The Barrage won the opening face-off via former Towson standout Alex Woodall and play looked a little rusty in the 97 degree Annapolis weather. Overthrown passes and sloppy transitions, mainly due to the split sidelines, made the opening quarter a bit erratic.
The Barrage also got the scoring started just 3 minutes and 10 seconds into the game as MLL vet Tommy Palasek scored unassisted. Almost a minute later, another long time MLL player, Mark Matthews scored in heavy traffic for Philadelphia. The Barrage would get a goal from Shayne Jackson and go up 3-0 before the Bayhawks tallied their first. Second year attackman Andrew Kew got the scoring started off a Ryan Keenan assist. The Bayhawks would end the first quarter on a 3 goal run and tie the game at 4.
The second quarter started much like the first, as Philadelphia added two goals from Tyson Gibson and Palasek. Chesapeake would answer with their second 3-goal run of the game getting scoring from Luke Anderson, Andrew Kew and Ryan Keenan. The Barrage would score the final two goals of the half by way of Colin Minicus and Palasek.
The third quarter started much as the previous two, an Alex Woodall face-off win and a Barrage goal. Tommy Palasek found Jon Mazza to take the 9-7 lead. Chesapeake would rattle off another 3 goal run, two of which came by way of man-up opportunities from Lyle Thompson and Andrew Kew. The Barrage would tie it at 10 with 34 seconds left off a Tyson Gibson goal.
Alex Woodall would go 4 for 4 in quarter opening faceoffs, but this time it would be the Bayhawks that would score first. Lyle Thompson would find Nate Solomon in traffic to take the 11-10 lead. Jon Mazza would get time and room off the assist of Mark Matthews to tie it for the Barrage a minute and a half later. Colin Heackock would find Andrew Kew open on the extra man set to start a 5 goal Chesapeake run that included goals from Lyle Thompson, Nate Solomon, and two more from Kew. The Bayhawks take game one by a final score of 16-11 over Philadelphia.
Chesapeake goalie Brian Phipps (11 saves) said that “it took us a little while to get our feet wet” after only two days of training camp. Playing in the league’s first game with split sidelines took some getting used to. “I thought it would be more chaotic and fast-break style, but you saw teams panic and get back so it allowed easy, settled clears in the second half.” Phipps continued, “It was more patient in the second half, so we could deliver the slower clears so we could get our personnel on”. When asked about the split sideline Bayhawks Coach Tom Mariano stated, “Coaching wise it’s weird” but went on to say, “I love it, I think it’s something everybody should do it, high school, college…if you work hard, you’re going to get transition”. Philadelphia Barrage midfielder Matt Whitcher said “we did a pretty good job with it, especially with it being the first time” when talking about the sidelines. He went on to say, “In practice is felt a little weird and we were going to feel the change, but come game time it was back to basics”.
As the players and coaches get used to the new rules, lighter ball, and playing without fans, expect to see the game speed pick up. Teams also have limited time to make adjustments in a week long tournament. “The team that improves the most over the course of this week is the team that’s going to be playing next Sunday” added Whitcher.
The Bayhawks improve to 1-0 and will face the New York Lizards tomorrow at 1pm on ESPN2. Meanwhile, the Barrage fall to 0-1 and take on the Denver Outlaws at 4pm, also on ESPN2.