COLUMBUS, Ohio - They all had their reasons for the emotions that spilled out after the Bayhawks won the Major League Lacrosse championship yesterday with a dominating, 21-13 victory over the Long Island Lizards.
Bayhawks goalie Greg Cattrano hadn't won a title since high school. Player/coach Gary Gait has experienced a championship at nearly every level, but before yesterday, he had never won one as a head coach. And Rob Shek, 33, had decided to take another shot at an MLL crown after contemplating retirement last summer.
Behind Cattrano, a smothering defense and an offense that found the peak of form at the season's most critical time, the Bayhawks dominated the defending league-champion Lizards from the outset to earn the convincing victory before 5,596 fans at a stifling hot Crew Stadium, home of Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew.
The loss avenged two regular-season losses to Long Island (10-6), and a 15-11 defeat at the hands of the Lizards in last year's title game.
"It was a complete [reversal]," said attackman Mark Millon. "Last year, we had a great season, but in the championship game, we didn't choose to play our best game. ... Today, that's what we did. I don't care if there are six teams in this league or 50 teams. These six teams are absolutely loaded, and this team we beat today was so, so talented."
Millon, the league's Offensive Player of the Year, won game MVP honors with a five-goal, two-assist performance, but the award could have easily gone to any of a host of Bayhawks.
Cattrano was named league MVP and Goalie of the Year at a ceremony on Saturday and backed up those honors with a 25-save performance.
Gait had two goals and five assists, midfielder Josh Sims had four second-half goals and attackman John Blatchley contributed a goal and a team-record five assists. Paul Cantabene also scored twice and won 20 of 32 faceoffs.
The Bayhawks (12-4) took over in a 12 1/2 -minute stretch spanning the first and second quarters, their six-goal run giving them a 12-3 lead. The stretch was highlighted by a two-point goal from Kip Fulks and three goals from Millon, all against Lizards goalie Brian Carcaterra, whose defense never gave him much of a chance.
The Bayhawks applied the knockout blow in the third quarter, outscoring the Lizards 8-3 and turning the game over to their defense, which kept the highest-scoring team in the MLL grounded all afternoon.
"It was a great team effort from one end to the other," said Gait, who said this championship was even more special to him as a coach than as just a player. "We stuck with what we wanted to do, and we came out and performed. That's what champions do.
"[Cantabene] dominated on draws. Our goaltender dominated. Our defense dominated. That's how you jump out to 20 goals in three quarters. That is the best we played all year."
Said Lizards coach John DeTommaso: "My overall impression is that we got beat in every facet of the game by a team that really played well."
After watching his team fall behind the Lizards in the two regular-season losses, Gait was already talking about the need to get off to a fast start in yesterday's final 15 minutes after the Bayhawks put the finishing touches on a 15-10 semifinal victory over the Boston Cannons last Sunday.
That became a reality in all of 24 seconds, as Blatchley converted a Millon pass at the 14:36 mark to put the Bayhawks on the board. Blatchley returned the favor, feeding Millon for a 2-0 lead.
The Bayhawks kept up the offensive pressure as the spread was 12-5 at halftime after the Lizards' Terry Riordan and Tim Goettelmann, who scored three goals each, closed the half with scores.
In the half, the Bayhawks' defense, playing as physical as it has all season, kept the Lizards scoreless for 12:37.
"Their goalie played great, as everyone expected he would," said Riordan. "This stings a little. It's a long summer, and to leave it empty-handed, it stings. We just didn't play well today."
The door was shut on any Lizards comeback in the third quarter when Sims and Cantabene scored two straight to give the Bayhawks a 14-5 advantage.
"I don't think anybody is surprised by this outcome," said Cattrano. "Rob Shek said in the locker room before the game that we [hadn't played] our best game [this season], and we went out and played it. ... To win a championship at the highest level, I had no idea what it would feel like until the clock struck zero. I am going to remember this for a long time."
As will Shek, the former Towson State star. He said yesterday's game was likely his last.
"To win a championship with the way we played - I don't want to say it [retirement] is definite, but it would be a great closure to my career. We peaked in the championship game, and not many teams can say that."
Long Island 3 2 3 5 - 13
Bayhawks 6 6 8 1 - 21
Goals: LI-Riordan 3, Goettelmann 3, Haugen 3, Finneran 2, V.Sombrotto, Powell; B-Millon 5, Sims 4, Cantabene 2, Marechek 2, Gait 2, Sonke, Shek, Fulks, Blatchley. 2-pt goals: B-Fulks. Assists: LI-Powell 4, McCabe; B-Blatchley 5, Gait 4, Millon 2, Marechek, Frye. Saves: LI-Carcaterra 12, Murtha 1; B-Cattrano 25.