A Well Oiled Machine
By Redmond Zmudzien
If Chesapeake’s Kyle Dixon is the Reggie Miller of lacrosse (for his dominance shooting from behind the two point arc) then Chicago’s Brett Garber is Kobe Bryant.
The Toronto Nationals were in line to get their first win of the season, but suffered an absolutely heart breaking, last second loss to the Chicago Machine on Saturday night. Leading 13-12 with just over 30 seconds remaining in the game, all the Nationals had to do was play keep away to earn their first victory. It was not meant to be though, as a Nationals midfielder turned the ball over in the Chicago zone with 12 seconds remaining.
Chicago midfielder Matt Striebel scooped the ball up and sprinted to the Nationals cage and ripped a shot that sailed high over the net. Luckily for the Machine, they beat Toronto to the end line and retained possession with one second left on the clock. After much jockeying from Chicago head coach B.J. O’Hara though the referees discussed it and corrected the game clock to leave three seconds remaining. The Machine called a timeout as they tried to draw up some sort of desperate, last second play.
Chicago started the reset at goal line extended to the right side of the cage. As soon as the whistle blew the Chicago player found midfielder Brett Garber inexplicably open at the top right, behind the two point arc. Garber caught the pass, took a couple of shuffle steps, wound up and unloaded a shot from behind the arc just before time expired. Toronto goalie Brett Queener couldn’t find the ball until it was too late though. The ball found the back of the net and Chicago completed their unlikely comeback with an unbelievably rare buzzer beater, two point goal for the win.
Queener was in shock after the goal as Machine players jumped around in elation. The Nationals, stunned by the last second loss, walked somberly around the field as they watched their season continue to slip away as they fell to 0-4 on the season.
The Nationals started out hot, jumping out to a 6-3 lead by goals from John Grant Jr., Dan Dawson and Jordan Hill among others. The Machine, who improved to 3-1 and are currently tied for first place, fought back though and quickly erased the lead. The rest of the game was like a heavyweight boxing match as the two exchanged blow after blow, until Chicago delivered the knockout as time ran out. At one point, spanning from the second to the third quarter, the Machine scored five unanswered goals.
Toronto lead by one as late as 1:33 remaining in the game, but Chicago never gave up and the Nationals several costly mistakes finally caught up with them. As Toronto head coach Dave Huntley preached all week and before the game on Saturday, possession was key and his team needed to limit the opposition’s possessions if they wanted to win. However, the Nats turned the ball over all night with errant passes and other miscommunications. When the time came for the Nationals to hold onto the ball and seal the deal, another turnover killed their chances as the Machine capitalized on yet another mistake.
Now sitting at 0-4 and dead last in the league, the Nationals have to decide which direction they want to go in at the Collegiate Draft on Sunday June 6. This loss may or may not affect their draft strategy, but one thing is clear; Brett Queener’s job is safe. On Saturday the Nationals went against their modus operandi of having Doc Schneider start the first half in cage and putting Queener in to close it out. Queener, who played a fine game with 19 saves including six in the final frame, started the game and played the entire four quarters. It is unclear whether Schneider suffered an injury or if his job is on the hot seat, but questions will be abuzz this week. Especially with stud Notre Dame goalie Scott Rodgers, a top draft prospect, waiting for his shot at the MLL, whom Toronto GM Stu Brown said his team would pounce on if given the opportunity. Whether the Nats will continue to keep Queener in for entire games (something he hasn’t done since college) or if the team will look to continue the Schneider platoon/find a new name to pair him with; it is something to keep an eye on during Sunday’s draft.
After winning the MLL Championship last year, the Nationals are in unfamiliar territory at 0-4 and could soon be out of the playoff race if they don’t experience a turnaround next weekend. Perhaps the draft and the youth it will bring to this Toronto team will provide the spark needed to get this team out of neutral. Whether the Nationals will recover from this devastating loss remains to be seen, but one thing is clear; time is slowly ticking down on their season.