Sunday’s PLL championship was Whipsnakes LC’s to lose, and had it not been for a massive offensive outburst in the fourth quarter, they would have. But a 10-0 run was more than enough to power them past Chaos LC 12-6 for their second consecutive championship title.
Zed Williams scored five of his six goals in the final quarter including four in a span of 1:56. He was named the series’ MVP with 20 goals and three assists in six games.
“Zed. I didn’t coach that, that just happened,” an awed Whipsnakes’ head coach Jim Stagnitta said.
“Thank god we have Zed on the team now,” said Matt Rambo. “We were playing a little too tight and we just played loose. Zed, man, have to give credit to him, he stepped up big and we started moving the ball.”
Rambo led the league in points (25) and assists (18). His only goal of the championship game was a beauty, the Whipsnakes’ 10th, coming on a crease dive after they caused a turnover to kill off a Chaos man-up opportunity.
The Whipsnakes were behind 6-3 heading into the last 12 minutes but came out of the break roaring, scoring six times in the first 3:49. The tying goal was the highlight, with Williams splitting the defense for a vertical crease jump.
Not content with just tying the game, time after time the Whipsnakes drove hard to the net, evading Chaos defenders and taking frantic shots that, for the first time in the playoffs, Blaze Riorden couldn’t save. The team known for their box-style play had the tables turned on them with Williams crashing the crease. With time running out, Chaos just couldn’t hold possession in the fourth and only had one really good 2-point opportunity on which Jake Froccaro couldn’t capitalize.
“They punched us in the mouth for a lot of those minutes there and luckily we took over at the end,” said Whipsnakes’ goaltender Kyle Bernlohr. “We were just preaching experience. We have a lot of past champions on the team and we relied on that and recognized that we were the only team that had really put together four quarters.”
Blaze Riorden was the backbone for Chaos, making 14 saves. He and the strong defense in front of him was the catalyst that allowed Chaos to grab a 6-2 lead in the first place.
Chaos head coach Andy Towers said that Williams “hit some great shots on arguably, definitely, the best goalie on the planet.”
Bernlohr and Riorden finished one-two in save percentage at 63 and 61 per cents, respectively.
The Whipsnakes took a 2-0 lead early in the game. Mike Chanenchuk whipped in the first goal at 1:06. Williams made it 2-0 on a pass from John Haus at 2:10. Each team traded 2-point attempts but then Chaos’ box lacrosse line took over scoring three in 1:57. Josh Byrne let a shot go before being bodied down; Randy Staats scored on a sidearm through traffic; and Miles Thompson had the ball in his stick for less than a second before firing in a pass from Curtis Dickson.
The second was quiet with only Byrne scoring, finishing off a transition run started by Sergio Salcido. Chaos led 4-2 at halftime and looked to be have the momentum as underdogs.
“You hopefully never have those doubts in the middle of the game but we always knew we had a lot left in the tank,” said Whipsnakes’ captain Michael Erhardt.
Kevin Buchanan and Dhane Smith scored for Chaos in the third as they built a 6-2 lead. The Whipsnakes finally broke their 27-minute scoreless drought with 5:10 left in the third when Brad Smith faked a pass and then broke out in front of the net to score, cutting the Chaos lead in half.
The Whipsnakes celebrated with some beers and Pink Whitney on stage as Mike Rabil presented them with the very breakable-looking PLL trophy.
“I think this one was tougher,” Stagnitta said. “It’s the hardest thing in sports, to repeat. We started talking about it as soon as we finished celebrating last year’s championship… We were challenged at different times throughout this series right into the fourth quarter. The pressure and the expectations were there.”
Williams was, by popular consensus, the game changer for the Whipsnakes after leaving the MLL for the sophomore PLL.
“He’s the nicest guy I’ve ever met in my life. Individually he’s so talented. Just an unbelievable draft pick by Coach Stagnitta,” praised Bernlohr.
Williams said little to the media after the game, praising the Whipsnakes’ defense and Bernlohr for getting the offense extra possessions and saying “this one’s for my dad,” before having to walk away overcome with emotion, while never letting go of his stick.