“Oil up” has been the mantra and battle cry for the Ohio Machine and for the second year in a row, they have oiled up their way into their second appearance in the Major League Lacrosse playoffs.
And once again they have a first round matchup with the Rochester Rattlers.
Head coach Bear Davis said there was a lot to learn from the team’s first-ever playoff appearance last year.
“I think that feeling of where we were in that locker room post game, I think it’s been on the mind of these guys for a while and the coaching staff as well. You want to get to a certain place and when it’s cut short, why it was cut short, does resonate with you.”
Last season, the Machine were the No. 4 seed and had to travel to Eunice Kennedy Shriver Stadium to take on the top-seeded Rattlers, where they were defeated 15-11.
This time around, Ohio is the No. 2 seed and welcome third-seeded Rochester into Selby Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 1 for a rematch.
But Davis said that even though a majority of the guys who lost in last year’s playoff are on the team for this season, these are two different teams this year and wants to focus that this is a unique, individual game.
He also said that having home field advantage for this year’s playoff game is tremendous but that the team has bigger plans.
“Last year, we came in just becoming more competitive and I felt like we accomplished that,” said Davis.
“There’s always a goal of trying to watch the franchise grow every day we wake up. We keep climbing that mountain and it’s been a journey so far but we all agree on our side of things our journey is not over.”
The two teams split in this season’s two games with Ohio winning the first game at Rochester, 17-12, and the Rattlers paying them back in Selby Stadium, 16-15.
Davis said possessions were the key to both teams’ success in pulling out a victory.
“We were pretty fortunate that we were able to have flashes of dominance in the first game and I think the second game was more of that heavyweight, toe-to-toe, trade-punch fight. We never really got that big roundhouse punch in. They came out fired up that second half and they answered the bell and did a real nice job.”
Second half woes have plagued the Machine this year, being outscored by their opponents in goals 86-91, including a season-high 13 against Rochester in their second matchup.
What has saved the Machine, though, is the fact that they are 6-2 when leading after the first half, outscoring their opponents 110-80.
“They say it’s a game of runs,” said Davis. “And sometimes you get that unique game where you just trade blows the whole time.”
He said the leadership of guys like tri-captains Brian Phipps, Marcus Holman and Kyle Harrison have been a big factor in the team’s success.
“I think they care about the little things,” said Davis. “They see the team dynamics a lot, which I think is over looked, and we address those things. They have their group chats and they relay messages to the guys whether it’s from the staff or from them and just make sure we’re all on the same page heading into the weekend.”
After leading MLL last year in goals (37), Holman followed that up by besting this year’s total by two (39), putting him second overall this season to Florida’s Kieran McArdle, who had 47.
Holman also set a club record with 83 goals in just the third season of his professional career (all with Ohio).
Phipps has had his best season ever protecting the net, setting some records of his own.
He had a franchise-best 206 saves, at 56 percent, and the lowest goals against average in team history at 12.23.
And having an experienced veteran like Harrison to fall back on has also been a big part of their success.
“Kyle is obviously a veteran, he is the most veteran player that we have so his experience is second to none when it comes to helping these young guys through their transformation from rookie to sophomore year,” said Davis.
“There are things that he does off the field that does show up on the field with these guys and that’s the most important thing for us as him as a captain and leader of this team.”
He said that not having attackman Logan Schuss for the season changed some aspects of their offense but that having a healthy Tom Schreiber has been instrumental.
“Last year, the grind of the college season and an injury in the late part took a toll on him and it’s real exciting to see him at his peak as a healthy player in this league,” said Davis.
Schreiber finished the regular season as the Machine’s leading point scorer (60), tied teammate Steele Stanwick for first in assists (30) and was second in goals (29).
Those numbers tied Schreiber and Stanwick for first in MLL in assists (with New York’s Rob Pannell) and put Schreiber fourth overall in points.
Davis also said the emergence of rookie attackman Jimmy Bitter has made the offensive change a little more seamless.
“Their skill sets are a little bit different so that’s changed a little bit of our offense,” he said speaking on Bitter and Schuss.
Since joining the team in week 7 after his senior year at the University of North Carolina, the Machine’s No. 1 draft pick has made a big impact.
In only seven games this year, he managed to finish fourth on the team in goals (21) and tied Harrison for fifth in points (26).
He was named the Cascade Rookie of the Week twice, finished third in the MLL Cascade Rookie of the Year voting and tied teammate Holman for the most goals scored in a single game in team history with six, which came against Rochester in their losing effort at home.
But most importantly, said Davis, the reason the Machine were successful offensively this season is that the team was more patient and gained more experience playing together.
As to the recipe for victory tomorrow, he said that controlling possessions is going to be the main factor in trying to stem Rochester’s offense, which features attackman Jordan Wolf.
Wolf not only leads the Rattlers in goals (37), assists (24) and overall points (61), but is in the top four of MLL in each category.
“When you’re playing a lot of defense, it’s hard to play a dictative style because you’re just tired so those possessions are everything,” said Davis. “In this last game, there were over a hundred shots. That’s just a lot of shooting.
“(But) we tend to get over fifty shots a game recently and we’re a volume type team … so it should be interesting.”
The ball drops in Selby Stadium, Saturday, Aug. 1 at 4 p.m.