Bayhawks, Lizards in familiar title roles

MLL finalists' meeting in Boston today is their fourth in five seasons

Pro Lacrosse

August 21, 2005|By Dan Hickling | Dan Hickling,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BOSTON - Baltimore Bayhawks. Long Island Lizards. After a year's absence, they're back playing for the championship of Major League Lacrosse.

The Bayhawks and Lizards will vie for the crown for the fourth time in five years starting at 1:05 p.m. today on the fast, artificial surface of Boston University's Nickerson Field,

While it's been a safe bet for some time that the Bayhawks (11-2) would be contending for their second title (first since 2002), Long Island's final berth was not nearly so predictable.

The Lizards (5-8) shocked the top-seeded Boston Cannons, 19-14, in a semifinal Friday to set up another meeting in the MLL's best rivalry. The Bayhawks defeated the Rochester Rattlers, 20-13, in the other semifinal.

At first glance, the matchup seems like a mismatch.

After all, the Bayhawks dominated Long Island in their two regular-season meetings, 21-15 and 19-8.

But looks can be deceiving, and past records are best discarded.

"That was the 4-8 Lizards," said Long Island goalie Greg Cattrano, who has played in all four previous finals, including the first three with Baltimore. "This is a brand-new 1-0 team [in the playoffs] now."

Avoiding the trap the Cannons stumbled into should not be difficult for the Bayhawks if they play their game - ball control and firepower - without letting up.

"The practices are over," said veteran Bayhawks faceoff specialist Paul Cantabene. "[Now] it's whoever plays harder. Whoever wins the ground-ball war will win the game."

Tom Marechek, the team's second-leading scorer behind player/coach Gary Gait, agreed.

"We have to be composed, and move the ball," he said. "We have the best middies in the league, and we have to let them go hard to the cage."

Gait is the sport's most visible face and, at 38, still its most potent performer. He leads the MLL in goals (42) and points (63) and can take over a game when the situation demands it.

In fact, he is such a force that, according to Lizards coach Jim Mule, trying to craft a defense to stop him is a waste of effort.

"He's not a guy you're going to stop," Mule said. "Even when you think you do a good job on him, you look at the end of the game and he's still got five, six, seven points. We're not going to concentrate just on Gary. Baltimore is just too powerful. We're just going to have to play good team defense."

Long Island's defense is anchored by the wiry Cattrano, who helped the Philadelphia Barrage to the championship last year after being dealt away by the Bayhawks for the right to draft Mikey Powell.

Cattrano led the Bayhawks to the championship in 2002, when he was named the league's MVP.

He made 18 stops in the upset win over Boston and is confident the Lizards have another stunner left in them.

"They are really tough," he said of the Bayhawks. "They have everything there. But I think we do, too, and it's going to be a really tough game."

Bayhawks today

MLL title game

Matchup: Bayhawks (11-2) vs. Long Island Lizards (5-8)

Site: Nickerson Field, Boston

Time: 1:05 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

Outlook: This is the Bayhawks' fourth trip to the MLL title game in five years, and Long Island has been their opponent each time. The Bayhawks won the crown in 2002. Long Island was just 4-8 this regular season, but stunned the top-seeded Boston Cannons, 19-14, in Friday's semifinals. The Bayhawks swept the regular-season series between the teams, 21-15 and 19-8. The Bayhawks' attack is led by player/coach and league leading scorer Gary Gait (42 goals, 21 assists). Tom Marechek (33, 22) and rookie Mikey Powell (27, 17) add significant scoring punch. Long Island is led by goalie Greg Cattrano, a former Bayhawk who will be appearing in his fifth straight title game. Blake Miller (33, 11) and former Loyola standout Tim Goettelmann (26, 12) lead the Lizards' attack.

- Dan Hickling

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