Charlotte upsets Denver in MLL semis

Chesapeake's Jeff Reynolds (21) and Hamilton's Mike Poppleton collide during their Major League Lacrosse semifinal. AKIRA SUWA / Staff
Chesapeake's Jeff Reynolds (21) and Hamilton's Mike Poppleton collide during their Major League Lacrosse semifinal. AKIRA SUWA / Staff
Posted: August 26, 2013

Charlotte Hounds rookie attack Mike Sawyer just wanted to show the sport his team could do it.

When he scored his fourth goal with 5 minutes, 44 seconds left to give the Hounds a 15-12 lead, he sprinted behind the net with his arms raised before he clenched his fists in an emotional release, ending a furious Denver Outlaws push and eventually sending underdog Charlotte to the Major League Lacrosse final with a 17-14 win.

"Everyone loves being a spoiler," said Sawyer, whose Hounds were 7-7 in the regular season and took down previously unbeaten Denver. "No one expects us to win. No one really thinks we should be here. We just wanted to prove everyone wrong."

In the following matchup at PPL Park, the defending-champion Chesapeake Bayhawks beat the Hamilton Nationals, 13-12. Chesapeake will play Charlotte for the Steinfeld Cup in the league championship on Sunday at 3 p.m., also at PPL Park.

After beating Denver, which finished with the MLL's first 14-0 regular season, Charlotte earned a trip to the final in its second year of existence and first trip to the playoffs.

"I'm still looking around to see if they're going to take this one away," Charlotte coach Mike Cerino said. "People keep saying we're playing seven rookies. We're playing seven guys with great backgrounds who are playing loose and confident, and, to beat a team like Denver, you have to play that way."

Charlotte jumped to a 13-7 lead at halftime, but Eric Law, who finished with nine goals, spearheaded a Denver run that at one point got the Outlaws within two.

"That's why we do this," Charlotte defenseman Ryan Flanagan said. "That was definitely nerve-racking. They have so much firepower."

Sawyer finished with four goals, including a two-point goal, and an assist to lead Charlotte. Matt White had three goals, while Matt Danowski, Jake Tripucka, and Ryan Young had two apiece.

In the other semifinal, Chesapeake's Mike Kimmel scored twice in the final eight minutes, including the game-winning goal with 1:25 left, to lift Chesapeake to a 13-12, come-from-behind win.

"I was really happy to redeem myself after I got stuffed earlier in the quarter," said Kimmel, unable to hold back a smile after the game. "I was happy to get another opportunity and just bury it."

Kimmel finished with three goals, including a two-point goal, and an assist.

John Grant, Ben Hunt, and Drew Westervelt each added two goals for Chesapeake, which trailed by 11-8 entering the fourth quarter.

Chesapeake, which has won four of its six championship game appearances, will play for its second straight championship Sunday.

The win had special meaning for Chesapeake assistant coach Tony Resch, a Flourtown resident and who coached the now-defunct Philadelphia Barrage to two championships and the National Lacrosse League Philadelphia Wings to four titles.

"This is my only home game of the season," said Resch, who is La Salle High School's athletic director and had family and former players in the stands. "It's a great thrill to come to your hometown and have a win like this."

Contact Nick Carroll at Follow on Twitter @NickJCarroll.

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