As the Major League Lacrosse season enters the stretch run, the New York Lizards continue to pursue a coveted playoff spot after missing the postseason in 2013.
The Lizards’ playoff push strengthened July 3 with a convincing 20-11 victory over the Florida Launch at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium in a game delayed more than two hours by weather conditions. Tommy Palasek had five goals, and Rob Pannell added four goals and four assists to lead the Lizards, who won their third in a row to improve to 6-4 with four games remaining.
“We’ve been playing great team lacrosse,” Lizards head coach Joe Spallina said. “We had 11 assisted goals tonight. The talent level has never been in question and we’re starting to build some steam. We just want to keep getting better.”
The win capped a perfect three-game homestand that included wins over the Charlotte Hounds and Ohio Machine. Pannell scored six goals — all unassisted — to lead a 14-12 victory over Charlotte on June 21. A week later, the Lizards beat the Machine, 19-13, in a game co-sponsored by Herald Community Newspapers. They closed with six unanswered goals over the final 8:34. JoJo Marasco scored five times, while goaltender Drew Adams made 16 saves against the league’s top-scoring club.
“We’re 5-0 at home,” Spallina said. “The crowds have been outstanding and it’s great to give the fans something to cheer about.”
The ultra-talented and dangerous Pannell, last year’s MLL Rookie of the Year who had 25 goals and 17 assists in 10 games, is once again leading the offense. His team-high 27 goals and 16 assists ranked him third in the league in scoring heading into this week’s action. Over the last four games, Pannell has poured in 16 goals and assisted on eight others.
“Rob’s been great, and his best two games have been his last two games,” Spallina said of Pannell, who was named Coca-Cola All-Star Game MVP last month after scoring the winning goal with seven seconds remaining to give Team USA a 10-9 victory over Team MLL.
Midfielder Max Seibald, a former Hewlett High School and Cornell University star, has 18 goals in eight games. Seibald, who had six points in the win over Charlotte, said getting back to the playoffs after a tough 2013 campaign is the No. 1 goal. “The biggest thing is to get into the playoffs,” said Seibald, who was plagued by injuries last season. “Tonight’s win was big because we lost to Florida the first time around.”
Others keys to the offense are Palasek, who has 18 goals, Marasco (15), Ned Crotty (12), and Greg Gurenlian. The latter has won 60 percent of draws and ranks second in the MLL in groundballs with 77. The addition of Michael Kimmel, acquired in a trade from the Chesapeake Bayhawks a few weeks ago, has sparked the unit. Kimmel has seven points in two games with the Lizards.
The defense has been solid while ranking among the league’s top three units. Adams, who made his 800th career save earlier this season and is a three-time all-star, relies on Kyle Hartzell, Brian Karalunas, Joe Fletcher and Steven DeNapoli, another Hewlett graduate, to lead the defense. Last season, Adams, a five-year starter with the franchise, played in all 14 games and led the MLL in saves with 209.
“Our defense has been strong all season,” Seibald said. “Our chemistry is very good and we’re deep all over the field.”
The Lizards are back in action July 19 when they travel to face the Boston Cannons. New York won the first meeting, 11-10. Two home games remain, including a July 27 matchup with Chesapeake at Stony Brook University at 3 p.m. After visiting Charlotte on Aug. 1, the Lizards return to Hofstra for the regular-season finale against the Denver Outlaws on Aug. 9 at 5:30 p.m.
“It’s never about one guy, it’s about all the guys” Spallina said. “Everyone is starting to get on the same page and we’re seeing results.”