Rocco Granato – The Lacrosse Guy

By Jared Welsh

It has taken me so long to write this because the grief overcame my words. Any time I sat down to write this, I became so overwhelmed that I closed the computer and walked away. However, over the last few days the need to write this grew stronger than the emotions that stopped me.

I met Rocco back in 2012 when I was covering the Philadelphia Wings as part of Maryland Sports Insider. It was the first game of the season and I was conducting an interview with then goaltender Brandon Miller. All of a sudden I noticed a fan all decked out in Wings gear standing there also recording my interview. I didn’t think anything of it because we were on the main concourse of the Wells Fargo center and there was nothing stopping fans from interacting with the players. After the interview was over, I quickly grabbed another interview with Drew Westervelt, and sure enough, Rocco was right there recording. I noticed that that the players knew him well and were very comfortable with him. It was after the interviews that Rocco and I officially met.

Over the course of that 2012 season, Rocco would constantly chime in on our weekly Wings show and even became a great go to guest if a player did not call in. The friendship continued into the MLL season with Rocco coming down to Annapolis once or twice to cover Bayhawks games and hangout in the booth with us.

Anyone that knew Rocco will not be surprised by this, he quickly became a great friend and a part of the MSI/LTR family. I have been lucky enough to have Rocco as my color commentator for numerous Chesapeake Bayhawks games and a number of NCAA men’s lacrosse games at Delaware, Lehigh, and York College.

It was those Lehigh games that stand out to me the most. Coming up from Baltimore, I would drive to Rocco’s house, hop in his car, and he would drive the rest of the way from King of Prussia to Bethlehem. Those car rides are something I will cherish, while also being sad that they will never happen again. It was in those car rides I learned about his tenure in the Army Reserve, listened to him boast about his step-kids Samantha and Chris, and of course, get all the Philly sports knowledge I could handle.

Over the course of the MLL seasons we covered together, Samantha, Chris and his wife Jackie would all make appearances in the booth with us. I enjoyed seeing how much his family loved Rocco’s passion for lacrosse. The Chesapeake Bayhawks home games also had their own ritual. Rocco, Jackie, and I began meeting for a meal before just about every game. The time spent outside of the stadium became more impactful than the time in the media booth.

Now, we definitely had a lot of fun in the media booth. Over the course of 8 years and hundreds of broadcasts, your comfort level with your color commentator grows and our personalities come out more and more. The banter that we have developed through those times made the broadcasts even more fun, and hopefully better to listen to. His knowledge of the game and its players was extremely beneficial as we moved through a broadcast. I was also amazed by his quick recollection of things happening in-game. He knew that I could not see the whole field as the play by play guy. I am focused on the ball, who has it and where it is going. He filled in all the gaps for me and made my job a whole lot easier.

It was not just broadcasting where our paths would cross. We spent plenty of games in the media room as writers. In particular, I recall the 2019 NCAA National Championships in Philadelphia. We were in his town, with his people. While I am a Philly sports fan, I am not able to make it up there as much as I would like for Eagles, Sixers, and Flyers games. As we walked around, he knew EVERYONE. Our combined tenures in the lacrosse media world made it fun walking about the festivities and talking with pro players and coaches that we have crossed paths with in our work. The same was true at the 2019 US Lacrosse Convention. Walking the exhibition hall with him was impossible, because we would only make it a few feet before someone Rocco knew came up and struck up a conversation.

In the global events of 2020, it only seems fitting that our last encounter at a lacrosse event was during the MLL condensed season. Luckily, he was able to make it down to Annapolis one last time and sit beside me and cover some games. While it was not a broadcast, we had a great time chatting as we both worked on our articles for our respective media outlets. Who knew, in that moment, it would be the last time we would be at a lacrosse game together.

One of the many adjectives people have used to describe Rocco has been loyal. His loyalty to his family, friends, his city, and his sports teams is unmatched. The outpouring of support and tributes from the players would make Rocco blush, which is hard to do. Rocco would help anyone he met, even just for a moment, if he had the power to do so. It is still hard to believe that Rocco has left us, however, his impact on the people of the lacrosse world, and the world in general, will live on. That is a legacy anyone can be proud of.

I will miss having Rocco by my side in the upcoming years as I continue to broadcast and cover lacrosse games. His presence will surely be missed. However, he will not be gone. He will be there in spirit as I plan on having the Wings hat he gave me at every game I work. Lacrosse will always serve as a reminder of Rocco, but also serve as the medicine game to help cure the grief.

Rest in Peace Rocco.

Hammerheads Take Down Bayhawks

Jared Welsh, LTR Mid-Atlantic

2020 has been a year of firsts when it comes to a lot of sports. Major League Lacrosse is no different. The week long “season” being played tournament style was not the vision MLL leadership had after last season. In the first game on Friday, we saw another first; the use of emergency back up players. As part of the precautions taken for the event, Ronnie Fernando and Luther Fleming were designated the emergency goalie and face off players, respectively. Injuries suffered by Chesapeake (3-1) goalkeeper Brian Phipps in the game Wednesday night against the Denver Outlaws prompted coach Tom Mariano the use of Fernando to back up Sam Lucchesi. Similarly, Noah Rak received the night off while Fleming dressed as the back up to Justin Schwenk for the Connecticut Hammerheads (2-2).

The game opened up with Bayhawks midfielder Shane Simpson making a move from the “X” to get above goal line extended and executing a brilliant backhand shuffle shot to get the scoring started. A little over a minute later, the Hammerheads pulled even as Bradley “Bubba” Voigt answered with a backhand shot of his own. The Bayhawks regained the lead minute later when Andrew Kew beat his defender on a dodge and fired a low bouncer into the net. In a back and forth quarter it was only natural for Connecticut to tie the game with Kraus finding Voigt in front of the crease for some inside out ball movement and the goal. A follow up goal for the Hammerheads gave them their first lead of the game when Voigt passed out of the double team to an open Ben Martin for the goal. Answering back would be a two goal run by the Bayhawks started by Lyle Thompson firing a shot around a sliding defender and CJ Costabile scoring on the backdoor of the crease. The quarter ended with the Bayhawks up 4-3.

It took almost five minutes for the Bayhawks to continue their run in the second quarter. Boy’s Latin standout Colin Heacock brushed off a check and shot over his ducking teammate Andrew Kew to grow the lead to 5-3. Mike Panepinto kept things rolling for Chesapeake off a dodge at the arc and calling his own number for the 6-3 lead. Connecticut’s 12:18 scoring drought game to an end when Will Sands found Bubba Voight free on the inside to pull them within two. Thirty six seconds later, Ben Martin scored his second of the game and the Hammerheads found themselves down one with six minutes left in the half. Chesapeake’s Ryan Keenan put the Bayhawks back up two on a sweeping sidearm mid range shot. A great move from below goal line extended allowed Adam Osika to gain leverage and shoot across hit body for a ridiculous angle shot that pulled Connecticut back to within one. With 1:24 left in the half, Cody Radziewicz would tee off on a mid range rocket to tie it up for the Hammerheads.

The 7-7 tie was broken 45 seconds into the third quarter when Connecticut’s Ben Martin drove himself to the crease with a dive shot. Things started to get heated when CJ Costabile took a 2 minute unsportsmanlike penalty. The game started to grow chippy and the Bayhawks racked up 9:30 worth of penalties through 7:05 mark of the third. Lyle Thompson found long pole Chase Levesque for the team’s second defender goal of the game to tie it at 8. That tie only lasted a minute and six seconds after Ben Martin scored the hat trick to regain the lead for Connecticut. The Hammerheads grew the lead with another Voight catch-turn-shoot goal with 2:47 left in the quarter to go up 10-8. With less than a minute to play Andrew Kew fired a pass to Nate Solomon, who threw a couple fakes on the crease to get the Bayhawks back to with one. However, with only 12 seconds left in the quarter, Connecticut would bang home two goals. Ben Martin on a mid range shot, followed by Adam Osika on the toe drag and drive. The quarter ended with Connecticut up 12-9.

The fourth quarter scoring did not start until 6:55 left to go when Adam Osika scored with a backhand flip to extend the Hammerheads lead to 13-9. Bubba Voight would score his fourth of the day on a stop-turn-and shoot around defender CJ Costabile to continue the goal run for the Hammerheads. The game would end with the Hammerheads coming out on top 14-9.

“You can find a million excuses but at the end of the day we didn’t play hard enough. We didn’t compete”, Bayhawks head coach Tom Mariano said.

“It means the world to get drafted and that you can actually make an impact on your team and help them accomplish the team goals” Ben Martin said about being a first year player. “I think Bubba [Bradley Voigt] is one of the best finishers i have probably every played with in my life…he draws a ton of attention. They are really reluctant to slide off him and it really helps when you try to get to the cage as a dodger”. Depending on how the late night game finishes out, tomorrow could lead to a Chesapeake versus Connecticut rematch. “We know we are going to get their best shot tomorrow, so we are just going to watch film tonight and recover and make sure we are ready for that first swing” Martin said.

The Hammerheads improve to 3-2 and hold the tiebreaker over Chesapeake who fall to 3-2. The Semi-Finals will take place tomorrow on ESPN+ with Denver taking on the #4 seed at 1pm and the #2 versus #3 seeds at 4pm.

Showdown of the Undefeated

Jared Welsh, LTR Mid-Atlantic

What could very be a preview of the Major League Lacrosse championship game, the two undefeateds faced-off Wednesday night as the Chesapeake Bayhawks took on the Denver Outlaws. The game started 15 minutes late due to weather in the Annapolis area.

Mikie Schlosser of Denver got things started just 25 second into the game getting a step on Isaiah Davis-Allen and flinging a shot past Brian Phipps. The Bayhawks would tie it up with Brendan Bomberry getting some daylight just above goal line extended. The long pole, and 18th overall draft pick, Chase Levesque would take the ball down and shoot off balance to give the Bayhawk their first lead of the game. A minute later, at the other end of the field, Chris Aslanian ripped a stinger by Brian Phipps to tie the game at two. The Bayhawks would respond with the number two league leading goal scorer, Andrew Kew a minute later to go up 3-2. Kew would come up big again as the ball popped up in the air in front of the goal. Similar to a basketball player, Kew timed the rebound and put the ball into the back of the goal. In the closing seconds of the quarter, Brian Kormondy would blow by Davis-Allen with a sharp shooting stinger to get the Outlaws within one, 4-3.

RIT standout Ryan Lee got a great feed on the run and finished with a dive to tie the game for Denver in the first two minutes of the second quarter. Lee was not finished. Getting the ball behind goal line extended, Lee dove away from the crease and gave Denver the lead. However, Luke Anderson would take the lead for the Bayhawks with a 2 pointer wll behind the line. Ryan Lee would score the hat trick off a rebounded shot to tie the game at 6 for the Outlaws. The score would remain tied going into halftime.

The third quarter opened up with Lyle Thompson taking the catch, spin, shoot approach with a rocket of a shot to up the Bayhawks up 7-6. Denver followed up with Ryan Lee getting his 4th of the night, this time from about 12 yards to tie a 7. Lee would follow up with another goal of a Chris Aslanian assist all alone in front of the net to take the lead. The Bayhawks would answer back when Nick Manis fakes a shot, drawing defenders, and sprints by for the one on one goal; the first of his career. The final two minutes of the quarter would be huge for the Bayhawks. Towson graduate Grant Maloof would also tally his first career goal to put the Bayhawks up one. Thirty seconds later, while fixing his helmet on a brush, Maryland standout Colin Heacock would muscle in a goal to put Chesapeake up two to end the quarter.

Daniel Bucaro came out quick for Denver with a goal 1:02 into the final stanza. Lyle Thompson would use the backhand shot in the upper corner to put the Bayhawks lead back to two. Thompson would repeat with the exact same goal to give the Bayhawks their biggest lead of the night. It would not last long as Mike Schlosser and Chris Aslanian would put in a goal each 34 seconds apart. The Outlaws were able to tie the game with 7:20 left in the fourth off a Daniel Bucaro goal. That score would hold and send the game to overtime.

With 6:41 left in the overtime period, Brian Kormondy would get the ball coming out of the substitution box. Using an all out speed dodge, Kormondy got by Nick Manis for an open look that won the game for Denver.

The win takes Denver to 4-0 and they will face Boston (2-1) on Friday at 7pm. Chesapeake drops to 3-1 and will play Connecticut (1-2) on Friday 4pm.

Hammerheads Get First Win of the Tournament

Jared Welsh, LTR Mid-Atlantic

Day 5 of the Major League Lacrosse tournament started thirty minutes early due to continuing weather in the Annapolis area. The previous two days have seen significant weather delays, so the league opted for an earlier start to help prevent any stoppage. The New York Lizards (0-3) took on the Connecticut Hammerheads (0-2) in a battle of the winless.

New York would get on the board first as Decker Curran went five hole on Sean Sconone. The Hammerheads answered back with Michael Kraus backing down his defender and firing a shot around him. Moments later, Sean O’Brien followed his own shot and put the Lizards up 2-1.

The storm winds started to show up to begin the second quarter. Connecticut struck the first blow as Ben Martin got passed his defender and used a two handed ax chop shot to tie it at two. At the 10:42 mark, Will Sands passed from behind goal line extended for an easy catch and shoot for Bradley Voigt to get the Hammerheads the 3-2 lead. Connecticut continued the scoring as Ryan McNamara caught a Brendan Collins pass on his left, pulled his stick right and stepped down into his shot. The half would end 4-2 in favor of the Hammerheads

As players came back on the field to warm up, all of the stadium lights lost power and one of the scoreboards went out. The wind was so strong that is blew the metal advertisement boards onto the field. Lizards players ran over to put them back in place before being ushered off the field for safety reasons. In total, the halftime break lasted an hour. The Lizards found paydirt first on a patient possession to start the half. The extra pass from Justin Reh to Andrew Pettit allowed for the high percentage shot close to the cage. Forty seconds later, the Lizard’s Sean O’Brien took the ball himself on a high sweep and tied the game at four. Connecticut wanted the lead back and found Will Sands alone on the crease for a goal. On their next possession, the Hammerheads’ Ben Martin found Bradley Voigt in the middle of the offensive zone. Voigt would take a punishing hit as he got the shot off for the goal. The run continued when Sands found Michael Kraus on the crease to take the lead to 7-4. The three goal run was ended by Connor O’Hara getting a tight groundball and getting a shot off as he was taken to the ground for the Lizards. A costly offsides call against New York led to a fast break by Connecticut and Bradley Voigt finishes with a goal to send the Hammerheads up 8-5 to go into the quarter break.

Sean O’Brien opened up the fourth quarter with a long range shot with is foot on the two point line to get the Lizards within two. Lehigh standout Andrew Pettit received a pass on the crease and the double fake gave him space to get one by Sconone for the Lizards second goal of the quarter. Bradley Voigt kept the scoring alive for the Hammerheads with a one-handed underhand bounce shot. This was followed up a minute later with another Will Sands goal to put the Hammerheads up 10-7. The Lizard’s Nick Aponte stung the back of the so hard a huge mist of water came off the goal as he got New York within two. However, the Lizards would run out of time and fall to the Hammerheads 10-8.

“Really happy with the way the guys played, a ton of energy, lead each other. A ton of awesome team leadership and grinding it out and played really hard for 60 minutes”, Hammerheads head coach Bill Warder said.

“It was a whole team win today”, Bradley Voigt said. “You have three guys that haven’t ever played with each other, you got [Will] Sands coming in from Boston, you got [Michael] Kraus coming in from Virginia, so it definitely takes a little bit, a couple practices, a couple games but it’s finally there”.

The Hammerheads improve to 1-2 and stay in the thick of the playoff hunt with Boston (Thursday) and Chesapeake (Friday) still on the schedule. The Lizards fall to 0-4 and will face Philadelphia tomorrow at 4pm on ESPN+. The Lizards can steal the last spot in the playoffs with a win.

Chesapeake Uses 9 Goal Run to Best Cannons

Jared Welsh, LTR Mid-Atlantic

After a weather delay of an hour and 48 minutes, the Boston Cannons and Chesapeake Bayhawks finally took the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium Monday night for game seven in the Major League Lacrosse tournament. The Cannons entered the game with a 1-0 record having beat the New York Lizards in comeback fashion 16-14 on Saturday. The hometown Bayhawks are coming off a two game winning streak which saw them take down the Philadelphia Barrage 16-11 on Saturday, and the New York Lizards 18-13 on Sunday.

Challen Rogers would get the scoring started for the Cannons. As he took possession at the top of the arc, Rogers backed down into Chesapeake defenseman C.J. Costablie and fired an over the shoulder shot with his back to the goal. On Boston’s next trip into the offensive half, Bryce Wasserman dialed up a tricky bounce shot to get past Brian Phipps. With the score 2-0 early in the first, Brendan Bomberry would get the Bayhawks on the board with a one handed shot as he was falling to the turf. To tie up the game at 2, the the Bayhawks would get a goal from scoring leader Andrew Kew off a double team Lyle Thompson pass. After a series of penalties, teams were all even when Andrew Kew took the ball from behind the net and rolled the crease with a deadly side arm shot that was screened by his defender to give the Bayhawks their first lead of the game. Thiry seven seconds later, Ryan Keenan would rip a straight away shot from just inside the 2 point arc to give the Bayhawks a 4-2 lead. With 26.2 seconds left in the quarter Nick Chaykowsky would fire a side arm rocket also just inside the arc. Chesapeake took a 5-2 lead into the break.

The scoring run would continue in the second quarter as Nate Solomon put a swim move on his defender and finished with a leap through the crease to take the Bayhawks lead to 6-2. Ryan Keenan got in on the action as he muscled some space from his defender and beat Nick Marrocco with a high to low shot. Andrew Kew helped to keep the scoring going as he found Lyle Thompson in traffic for a quick release goal in front of the net shooting around the sliding defender. After being taken to the ground, Nate Solomon was able to find Shane Simpson on the skip pass and ripped the time and room bounce shot. Mark Cockerton with an all out indidvidual effort worked himself open to get one by Phipps. The Boston goal ended a 23:08 scoring drought and a 9 goal Bayhawks run. Boston tallied another goal as Randy Staats drove from the X and dove above goal line extended and threw and backhand shot into the net. The scoring for Boston would not end there. A restart behind the net, Bryce Wasserman drove to the opposite side of the crease and drew two defenders. Wasserman rocketed a shot between the two Bayhawks and brought the score to 9-5. The Cannons would tack on two more goals from Uppgren and Wasserman to end the quarter on a five goal run and only down 9-7 going into the half.

Lyle Thompson wanted to make sure the third quarter started differently than the half ended. A mid ranged rifle of a shot gave the Bayhawks some breathing room at 10-7. Thompson would get the ball again. Falling away from his defender, Thompson shoots a low to low for the Bayhawks. The Cannons Randy Staats found a streaking Reilly O’Connor who buried a running shot to keep the Cannons within striking distance. Colin Heacock, who has had a very quiet start, took the ball himself and dove across the crease to get one back for the Bayhawks. With 4:29 left in the third, Kyle Jackson would send a pass to Mark Cockerton just above goal line extended. The left handed shot got by Phipps to cut the lead to three. Andrew Kew added his third of the game from the same spot Cockerton just scored from to take the Bayhawks up 13-9. Lyle Thompson, who has been drawing double teams all night, was able to get another past the defense on a fake and dive to score his 10th of the tournament.

To begin the fourth quarter, former Maryland midfielder Bryan Cole got the action started with a 15 yard goal for the Cannons. Nate Solomon would answer back for the Bayhawks. A quick move from behind the net and a high fake to a high finish increased the Chesapeake lead to 15-10. Challen Rogers would take a Mark Cockerton pass behind the arc to scorch a 2 point shot to cut the lead to 15-12 with 1:37 left. Bryan Cole would put one in with 1:16 for Boston, but they would run out of time as the Bayhawks won 15-13.