After blasting the Boston Cannons last weekend, 19-12, the Ohio Machine sent Major League Lacrosse’s top-ranked team, the New York Lizards, slithering back to Long Island on Saturday night after a win in Selby Stadium, 14-9.
The Machine put up one of their best defensive efforts of the season, matching a season best for the least amount of goals allowed in a game. The last time they allowed their opponent to score in the single digits was the third game of the season against Chesapeake when they also allowed nine.
Machine head coach Bear Davis said the game was an all-around great team effort, and especially clutch was the play on the defensive side of the ball and from goalie Brian Phipps.
“He played out of his mind,” said Davis.
Machine defenseman Jackson Place said it helps having a guy like Phipps protecting the net.
The Machine’s tri-captain had 15 saves against 24 shots-on-goal, which was the third lowest total SOG he has faced all season.
Phipps, though, said the play of face-off specialist Greg Puskuldjian was a key factor in the win.
“Credit to him for neutralizing (New York face-off man Greg) Gurenlian,” said Phipps.
Gurenlian currently leads the league in face-offs won percentage at 74.
Puskuldjian is currently fourth at 55 percent.
“He’s been a great story all year,” said Davis of Puskuldjian.
Especially since the fact that Puskuldjian was cut from the team after training camp before the season began.
“We had him practice with us up in New York (for the season opener) and we weren’t getting what we wanted out of the face-off guy (before him) and we figured that we’d give the kid a try,” said Davis. “And he’s just been getting better and better.”
Puskuldjian won 17 out of 26 face-offs and also assisted on a goal in the third quarter.
The Machine were also able to lock down one of MLL’s best scorers in Rob Pannell.
Place said timing was a key factor in throwing New York’s midfielders out of rhythm, allowing for more time to get their defenses set.
“They have very aggressive midfielders and we had good timing on the slides,” said Place.
Pannell, who came in to tonight’s game leading the league in points (61), averaging five per game and third in goals scored (35), averaging almost three per game, was held to just two goals for a total of two points.
For the third game in a row and the eighth game of the year, the game started off quickly for Ohio as they scored the first goal of the contest.
Defenseman Brian Farrell lunged towards the goal from 8 feet out, falling down as he flung the ball into the back of the net.
The two teams traded off goals for the next six minutes and it was tied 2-2 until rookie Jimmy Bitter sparked a five-goal run with 4:39 to play as he ripped the back of the net with his first two-point goal of the year and put the Machine ahead at the end of the first quarter, 7-2.
Also scoring in the first quarter were midfielders Tom Schreiber and Kevin Cooper, as well as attackman Marcus Holman, with Bitter getting another goal, too.
From there the two teams would finish the game evenly matched, each scoring seven goals.
Schreiber continued leading the team in points (55) as he finished the game leading all players with five points on two goals and three assists.
Bitter finished with four points and his third goal of the game gave him his fourth hat trick of the season.
Not to be outdone, Holman also had a hat trick, his sixth of the year, and ended with three points.
Attackman Steele Stanwick finished with three points on two goals and an assist, while defenseman Brian Karalunas dished out two assists for a total of two points.
Midfielder Peter Baum finished the game with one goal for one point.
Paul Rabil led the Lizards with four points on two goals and two assists.
The win puts Ohio (8-5) in a three-way tie for second with Boston and Rochester with all three teams two games behind New York (10-3) with only one game left to play in the regular season.
The Machine will end their regular season at home in a rematch against Boston on Sat. July 25 at 7 p.m.