BOSTON –Trailing 12-3 with 11:32 to play in the third quarter and the reigning MLL MVP sidelined due to injury, it appeared that the Outlaws’ record-setting season had reached its end.
That’s when Denver set another record with a 10-0 run to end the game, catapulting the franchise into the Steinfeld Cup title game with a 13-12 victory over Long Island.
“We never gave up,” Stagnitta said. “Despite facing a large deficit and missing several key players, we were able to take one more step toward the goal we set at the start of the season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the grit and resiliency that this team showed today. We needed guys to step up, and they did just that when their numbers were called.”
The top-seeded Outlaws were dealt a blow on Friday as the team’s leading scorer, attackman Brendan Mundorf, suffered an ankle injury during the team’s practice. Mundorf, who had been crowned the league’s most valuable player just one day earlier, finished second in the league with 59 points in 2012.
With its leading scorer sidelined, Denver turned to rookie Chris Bocklet, who took Mundorf’s place in the starting lineup. The attackman, playing in just his eighth career MLL game responded with a career-best six goals.
Fellow rookie Mark Matthews assisted on three of Bocklet’s goals and finished with a franchise postseason-record four assists in the game.
Long Island jumped ahead to a 3-1 lead after the first quarter, and held Denver’s offense to just two first-half goals en route to an 8-2 halftime advantage.
The Lizards kept the foot on the gas coming out of the locker room with a pair of goals in the opening two minutes of play in the second half, extending their lead to 10-2.
Bocklet netted his second tally of the game at the 2:03 mark of the third quarter, but Long Island responded with back-to-back goals from Tommy Palasek and Mike Unterstein, seemingly ending any Outlaws comeback thoughts.
However, Denver stayed aggressive and Peet Poillon dove through the crease, putting the ball in the back of the net with 10:44 to play in the period.
Stephen Robarge won the ensuing faceoff and just over a minute later, the Outlaws had another goal, thanks to Matthews, who scored from his knees.
After 6:20 of scoreless action, the Outlaws capitalized on a man-up opportunity with a one-time goal from Matthews to Jordan McBride to cut the deficit to 12-6.
That’s when Bocklet took over, scoring back-to-back goals just over one minute apart. The rookie out of Virginia netted four goals in just 3:46 during Denver’s 10-goal streak to turn momentum back in the Outlaws’ favor.
Poillon turned in another highlight-reel goal, diving from behind the crease to sneak the ball past MLL Goalie of the Year Drew Adams with five seconds left in the third quarter. That score cut Long Island’s lead to 12-9, marking the sixth straight goal from the Outlaws.
Riding that momentum, Bocklet didn’t waste any time, scoring off the opening faceoff of the fourth quarter to make it a two-goal game.
He found the net again a minute-and-a-half later for the sock trick, making it a one-goal game. Anthony Kelly came away with the subsequent faceoff – Denver won 6-of-10 to close the game – and Poillon bounced in his third of the game to tie the score at 12.
Five minutes later, the Outlaws had their first lead of the night, thanks to a goal from Jeremy Sieverts.
The two teams traded possessions the rest of the way, but Long Island put just 1-of-8 shots on net to close the game. Long Island held a lead for 46:16 of game time, but when the final whistle blew, it was the Outlaws with the advantage on the scoreboard.
Goalie Jesse Schwartzman and the rest of the Denver defense combined to keep the Lizards off the board for the final 26:32 of the contest – almost the entire second half. MLL Defensive Player of the Year Lee Zink came up with several key takeaways and Schwartzman turned away the Lizards’ final four shots on goal.
With the victory, the Outlaws will appear in their fourth league title game in the team’s seven-year history. They will take on the winner of the other semifinal matchup between Chesapeake and Boston with the Steinfeld Cup faceoff scheduled for 3 p.m. EDT.
Denver, the only team to reach the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons, improved its postseason record to 4-6. The four wins rank fourth in MLL history and the four title game appearances are third-most in league annals.
The Outlaws will enter Sunday’s championship game riding a seven-game win streak, which ties the franchise mark that was set in 2007.
“We still have not played our best lacrosse,” Stagnitta said. “We need to play four consistent quarters in the playoff. It’s exciting to know we haven't peaked yet.”