Jeff Sonke ended a real battle at Mitchell Field with one blast from behind the two-point line Saturday night on Long Island. In a game that was at times sloppy, at times violent, but exciting throughout, the Outlaws propelled themselves to 6-4, while Long Island fell to 4-6, out of the playoff picture.
After giving up an early goal to Josh Simms, Long Island came out firing, quickly building a 3-1 lead by the end of the first quarter. The game became chippy and ugly early as both teams continued to throw checks after the whistle, lead into hits with elbows, and didn’t think twice to give a shove, whether it was part of the play or not. This was most obvious when, on a chase to the end line after a shot, Lizards’ defenseman Frank D’Agostino shoved a Denver player into the advertising signs after the ball rolled out and the whistle blew. There after, any hit was returned with a shove, and the trash talk was clearly audible from the sidelines.
Denver tied the game early in the second quarter with goals by Drew Westervelt and Brian Langtry. But the Lizards built a three-goal lead again, starting with a two-point blast from Chris Fiore. The goal was not without its controversy though, as it came when a procedure call gave the ball to Long Island, then to Denver, then back to Long Island after referees and coaches were done arguing the infraction. It seems at times the only thing consistent about MLL officiating is its inconsistency.
Tim Goettelmann added another goal off an assist from Mark Millon to make it 6-3 Lizards. Denver grabbed another from Westervelt as he drove around the cage, turned the corner, and stuck a tough-angled shot right over Long Island keeper Nick Murtha’s shoulder, making it 6-4 at the break.
Matt Brown made that lead evaporate early in the third quarter with some alert and opportunistic play. Murtha began to make some good saves on outside shots, but he could not control his rebounds. By hovering around the crease, Brown converted two loose balls, one muffed by Murtha, the other mishandled by Nicky Polanco, into two goals, tying the game at 6-6.
Long Island was able to get another goal off strong faceoff play by Peter Vlahakis. While not dominating at the X, Vlahakis won 16 of 28 on the day. After winning possession, he flew down field, and a few quick passes left rookie Frank Resetarits hitting Goettelmann for the score.
Brendan Mundorf came alive for the Outlaws in the second half. As the game wore on he became their most active offensive player, taking it on himself to drive and make things happen. What made his play more impressive was that Mundorf, listed at 5’11” and 195 lbs., was covered most of the day by the imposing 6’4”, 235 lbs., Polanco. Yet another example that size is intimidating, but speed is deadly.
He used his speed to start his scoring, driving across the face of the goal, getting a step, and ripping a nice running side-arm shot. He followed it up with a low angle blast from the wing off an assist by Sonke. Then Langtry, while facing tough defensive pressure, showed how strong he is by just rocketing an underhand shot that popped the twine in the top corner. Denver now enjoyed a 9-7 lead.
With veterans like Blake Miller and Mark Millon running the show for Long Island, that lead would be short lived. Showing how good his vision is, Millon looked for an opening to drive, then, seeing the whole defense had sunk in too much, floated a pass over the top to hit Miller on the backside. Miller walked in and scored before anyone could recover. Millon then netted one for himself, rolling and driving, finally bouncing a shot past Outlaws keeper Trevor Tierney.
Tierney got one back on Millon as the quarter expired, stuffing Millon as he got an edge and tried a lunging shot Tierney tracked all the way.
The fourth quarter saw Denver moving with a sense of urgency. Their many rushes up the field seemed to have two distinct results, either a conversion that resulted in a goal, or an errant shot or pass that returned possession to the Lizards. For several stretches the most limiting factor for the Outlaws’ offense was the Outlaws’ offense.
Relying on their athletic midfielders, Denver got a nice goal a minute into the quarter from Simms, his signature running gun. Goettelmann then got his hat trick the way he always does, using his huge frame to muscled in and get a shot. Then stalwart Stephen Berger got Long Island an 11-10 lead with an outside rip.
Mundorf got his hat trick with one of the most acrobatic goals I’ve seen in a while. Driving from the wing, he got the inside step and came right at the post. As he neared the crease, he was actually a step past the pipe, and some how lunged, stretched, and writhed his body back to just have his stick able to shove the ball around the post, tying the game with two minutes left to play.
Long Island won possession off the ensuing face off scrap and attempted to take the lead. After there push was thwarted though, melee erupted in front of the Denver goal. Somehow, as bodies and sticks flew, Resetarits got the ball and fired it past Tierney with 1:10 on the clock, giving the Lizards a 12-11 lead.
But on the next faceoff, Lou Braun, who had been quiet all day both at the X and in the offensive zone, showed how a player could step-up when he really had to. Braun won the face, grabbed the ball, and stormed down field. Fighting off a back check by a trailing Lizards' middie, Braun came right at the cage and bounced a shot between Murtha’s legs, just his second goal of the season, scored eight seconds after Resetarits’.
Both teams stood tall during the final minute of play, and the game progressed to overtime.
Overtime mirrored regulation with the refs trading spotty calls for both teams, but luckily both teams surviving them. Long Island looked like they would end the game early when Goettelmann got off a nice shot from within five yards, but Tierney stonewalled him.
With 3:31 left on the overtime clock, Jeff Sonke carried the ball down and decided to end the game right there. Nearly two full steps behind the two-point line, and with John Gagliardi sliding out to him, Sonke unleashed a cannon blasts that Murtha didn’t even have a chance at. With the confidence Sonke exuded in that take, he looked like he could have stuck it from half field if he wanted. After the goal, Sonke turned to the benches, stared, then tossed his stuck up in the air, some well-earned cockiness. Denver won the game by two of its workhorse middies just manning-up when they had to.
The loss for Long Island leaves them out of the postseason, along with New Jersey, Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco. They will not get a chance to play spoiler, ending their season with games at Boston, and hosting the Pride.
The win inflates Denver’s playoff sails. They now sit at 6-4, in prime position to take one of two wildcard spots, and still not out of the running for the Western Conference title. The LA Riptide come to Invesco Field at Mile High, Saturday. If LA wins, they will lock up the Western Conference title. They are already guaranteed a playoff spot with an 8-2 record so far.