By the start of the fourth quarter of last night’s Major Indoor Lacrosse League championship game, the Washington Wave was in its normal pattern.
As it has done all year, the Wave built a big lead early in the game and allowed the opposition to pull even. Four times this season Washington won games in the closing seconds or in sudden death overtime.
But last night at Capital Centre, the Wave’s good fortune ended. The New Jersey Saints scored three straight goals late in the game and won the title, 17-16, before 8,215 fans.
“I still think we are the best team in the league; we just came up one goal short,” Wave Coach Glenn Little said.
It was the second straight year the Wave lost in the title game by one goal. Last season, Baltimore beat them, 11-10, at Capital Centre.
Washington (6-3) took an 8-3 lead late in the first quarter. But the Saints (7-3) dominated the middle quarters to get close, then scored four of the last six goals to win.
With seven minutes left and the game tied at 13, the Wave’s Kevin Forrester scored a shorthanded goal off a breakaway for its final lead. But less than a minute later, Wave goalkeeper Tim Hastings got caught out of the crease and Jeff Goldberg scored into an open net with 5:34 to go.
At the 3:28 mark, the Saints took the lead for good when Randy Natoli collected a missed shot and scored from just outside the crease. The Saints’ Randy Mueller was then called for a two-minute penalty, but New Jersey’s Kevin Cook broke free for a shorthanded score, making it 16-14 with 2:17 to go.
The Wave’s John Lamon and Mark Gold sandwiched goals around Muller’s score to close to one with 30 seconds left. But the Saints controlled the faceoff and ran out the clock.
“We knew they try to push the ball up and play a run-and-gun game, so we tried . . . disrupt their flow,” said Goldberg, who scored four goals, three in the third quarter. “But they have been winning games in the last few minutes all season, so I was never sure we were going to win until the final buzzer.”
Gold, the league’s leading goal scorer, led the Wave with five goals. His brother, Joe, who had 20 goals coming into the match, was held to two. Pat Hanley added three goals and Kirk Thurston had three assists.
After the first quarter, it seemed the Wave was on its way to its fifth straight victory after a 2-2 start this season. It scored on its first three possessions and, at one point, had six goals on eight shots.
“We always come out slow,” Goldberg said. “They jumped all over us and took us out of our game. It just took us a little while to put things together.”
Mark Gold, Tom Lyon and Emmett Printup scored in the first five minutes to give the Wave a 3-0 lead. By 8:57, Washington had a 6-2 lead and New Jersey Coach Bob Engelke replaced goalie Mike Swift with Larry Quinn.
After the Wave’s lead grew to 8-3, its offense fizzled and it scored only four times in the next 37 minutes. “We knew we couldn’t suppress them for too long,” Mark Gold said. “They are too good of a team.”
In the middle periods, the Saints had a 42-22 advantage in shots on goal and 9-4 in goals. The Wave had an 11-10 halftime lead and raised it to 12-10 on Mark Gold’s fourth goal early in the third period.