Bayhawks Dig Deep, Defeat Outlaws for Sixth MLL Championship


An emotional Jesse Bernhardt hoists the Steinfeld Trophy. Bernhardt spearheaded a stellar defensive effort by the Bayhawks, who claimed their sixth MLL title with a 10-9 win over the Denver Outlaws at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

DENVER — With 7:52 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Major League Lacrosse championship game Sunday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Ryan Lee received a pass from Kyle Pless in transition, shot and scored, giving the Denver Outlaws a 9-8 lead over the Chesapeake Bayhawks. It was Denver’s first lead of the game and its sixth consecutive goal since the start of the second half.

For the Bayhawks players, however, it wasn’t time to panic; it was just time to dig deeper.

Chesapeake scored the final two goals of the game to outlast Denver 10-9 and claim the franchise’s sixth MLL championship.

“This is a game of runs,” Bayhawks long-stick midfielder C.J. Costabile said. “It’s how you respond to those runs that’s really going to dictate how you’re able to perform going forward. Being up 5-0 was great, but at the same time, you knew they could come back. For us, it was hunker down, take it one play at a time and just win the matchups. And you just gotta be tougher. Win the ground-ball war, be tougher than them, and the rest will take care of itself.”

The Bayhawks offense started off hot, scoring the first five goals of the game. What made the deficit seemingly even more challenging for the Outlaws to manage was the play of Chesapeake’s defense, which outmuscled Denver’s dodgers and seemed to knock down every pass in the early going.

Outlaws All-Star Mikie Schlosser, who scored two goals and added two assists in Friday’s semifinal matchup against the Cannons, was often met above the 2-point arc by Jesse Bernhardt and didn’t tally a single point in the first half. Chesapeake led 8-3.

“They had a lot of strengths,” Costabile said. “You look at a guy like Schlosser, make him a lefty. Make him go down the alley as a lefty. If he’s going to score six goals left-handed, more power to him.”

John Grant Jr., who scored five goals in the semifinal game against the Cannons, also struggled to get going in the first half of Sunday’s final. He was held to just one assist in the first half, as the Bayhawks countered with rookie  Warren Jeffrey in a physical matchup.

“Watching a kid like Warren Jeffrey out there battling one of the greatest players of all time, it was just fun to watch,” Bayhawks coach Dave Cottle said.

“We thought we had a great matchup there with Warren locking him down. Let Junior dodge 20 times. See what happens,” Costabile added. “Our game plan worked. We stuck to it, even when times were bad. We hunkered down and were able to get the W.”

Denver shut out Chesapeake in the third quarter, but still only managed two goals of its own. The momentum continued into the fourth quarter. Schlosser and Grant came to life as initiators, and Lee followed suit as a finisher.

The Bayhawks knew a run was coming.

“You watched those games on Friday night,” Bernhardt said. “Teams were up by four or five goals, and Denver made a comeback. At no point were we going to try and get comfortable. It’s the MLL. It’s one of the most unpredictable things I’ve ever played in. That’s what makes it so exciting. We knew we kind of had to buckle down. It’s a championship game. Those guys played hard on the other team. Things got chippy. In these moments, you have to keep your composure and stay poised.”

While the Bayhawks offense was quiet in the second half, it showed up when it was absolutely necessary.

From Lee’s goal at the 7:52 mark —  his third goal of the gam — the two teams traded empty possessions for more than five minutes.

Chesapeake scored its first goal of the second half when Nick Mariano, at the top of the 2-point arc, found Steele Stanwick open on the right wing. Stanwick, who scored in overtime to clinch Friday’s semifinal victory over the Atlanta Blaze, dodged under Denver’s slide and dove across the top of the crease, putting the ball in the far side of the net past a diving Dillon Ward, who tried to match sticks with Stanwick.

The game-winner came slightly more than a minute later, as Stanwick — playing behind the cage — found Andrew Kew on the bottom left with plenty of time and room. Kew’s show blew past Ward on the near pipe.

Bayhawks attackman Lyle Thompson, who was named MLL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year during the MLL Honors ceremony Saturday, said keeping composure was the most important part of the game.

“You’ve just got to stay composed and know you have to make the next play,” he said. “Ignore the fact that there might be a game on the line. You still have to do the things you do every day and every practice and every opportunity we get together as a team. Nothing changes day-to-day, whether it’s a championship or the home opener. You do that and stay composed, and at the end of the day, the outcome is the outcome.”

Stanwick was named the MLL championship MVP with two goals and an assist. Thompson finished with two goals and an assist, Kew scored two goals, and Chesapeake goalie Brian Phipps made nine saves.

This was the second time the Bayhawks and Outlaws have met in the championship game. The first came in 2012, when Chesapeake defeated Denver 16-6.

Once again, the Bayhawks held the Outlaws to fewer than 10 goals in the championship game. In fact, since 2016, Denver had failed to crack double figures just three times prior to Sunday’s championship game, one of which came also came at the hands of the Bayhawks.

Chesapeake’s defense in 2019 was the best in the league, the only team to allow fewer than 200 goals (193) during the regular season. The Bayhawks also had the best goal differential in the league, at plus-21.

Much of Chesapeake’s success this season generally, and in the championship game specifically, can be traced back to its defense.

“We don’t have maybe the top-end guys, but we played really well together, and we gelled throughout the year, from Warren Jeffrey being a rookie to Chris Fennell coming back, and getting Brian Phipps in cage,” Bernhardt said. “It was the [fifth] time we played them. They were a common opponent. There really weren’t a ton of secrets out there. It came down to doing the little things and playing tough, and our play spoke for itself.”

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