In a game that is sure to be discussed for seasons to come, the #2 seeded New England Command beat the previously undefeated #1 seeded Baltimore Brave 12-11 in the inaugural WPLL Championship. With twenty seconds remaining in the then tied game, Command defender Amber McKenzie caused a turnover and scooped up a ground ball in front of the Command goal, then found Taryn VanThof at midfield, who assisted Aly Messinger on the game winning goal. Command defender Megan Douty secured the win, winning the resulting ground ball and running out the clock. The entire game can be viewed here.
The championship game, which was held at US Lacrosse Headquarters in Sparks, MD, was the first time that New England and Baltimore faced each other since the Brave bested the Command 15-6 on June 9th in a game where the Command were unable to score in the entire second half. Hungry for revenge, Coach Amy Patton and her New England Command came out ready to hand Baltimore their first loss of the season, while Baltimore hoped to secure the first perfect season in WPLL history.
In a game that saw 8 ties and three lead changes, each quarter was marked by it's own strategy and pace of play. After a scoreless first five minutes of Q1 Brave attacker Alyssa Leonard found the back of the net first with the assist going to midfielder Marie McCool. Less than a minute later Amanda Johansen, who was previously coached by Leonard during her time at USC, scored an unassisted goal of her own, putting the Brave up 2-0 early. But the Command were quick to counter, as recent college grads Kasey Behr and Katie O'Donnell were not willing to see their championship dreams put out so soon. Behr put the Command on the board first with an unassisted goal, and moments later O'Donnell found a streaking Behr, who scored her second of the day. Command midfielder VanThof followed up with an unassisted goal of her own pushing the score to 3-2. While the Brave won 4 of the 5 draws of the quarter, they were not able to capitalize on those victories, as the Command defense forced several turnovers, bad shots, and shot clock violations. After a quiet two minutes, Brave attacker Brooke Griffin scored her first goal of the day, tying the game up 3-3 at the end of Q1.
The second quarter was marked by incredibly stingy defense by both teams, with only four goals scored in the 15 minute frame. Johansen found the back of the net first at the 11 minute mark, making the score 4-3 Baltimore, but nobody would score again until the 2:18 mark when Command attacker Taylor Hensh scored off a feed from VanThof. 2018 JMU graduate Kristen Gaudian scored off an assist from Alyssa Leonard at :42, followed by a quick goal from the Command's Ela Hazar at :29 after she received the ball behind net, cut in front of the goal, faked out the keeper and scored. With the game tied 5-5 at the half, the stage was set for an epic second half.
Kasey Behr led the Command's third quarter charge. In addition to taking a majority of the team's draws, Behr also started off 3rd quarter scoring with an unassisted goal at the 10:52 mark. Due to great goal keeping by Baltimore's Kelsea Donnelly momentum then started to shift in the Brave's favor with 3 straight goals (9:20 McCool unassisted, 8:05 Griffin from Leonard, 5:45 Laura Zimmerman unassisted), putting the Brave up 8-6. The Command refused to give up, and Behr brought the game to within 1 with another unassisted goal at 3:40.
With just 15 minutes to go in 2018 WPLL action, the Brave held a 8-7 lead going in to Q4. And just moments into Q4 that lead grew to 9-7 after another Gaudian goal. Down 2 with 14 minutes to play, it was do or die time for the Command. Hazar responded with an unassisted goal at 12:21, followed by a Kara Mupo goal from Messinger at 11:13. Tied again, both teams battled for the next two minutes, failing to setup quality scoring opportunities until Baltimore midfielder Kaitlyn Montalbano scored at 8:56 with the assist going to Griffin.
Now up 10-9, Baltimore was able to limit New England's possessions for the next four minutes, but failed to capitalize on their own scoring opportunities. With 4:55 remaining Command captain Mupo got the ball on the left side of the field. She worked her way behind the goal, only to cut back to the front of the net, losing her defender and scoring in the process. Tied 10-10 with five minutes remaining, both teams still had plenty of fight left in them. With 3:15 remaining McCool missed a FPS when her stick was checked and the shot sailed high. Baltimore backed up the shot and regained possession, with Dana Dobbie finding an open Johansen, who drove to the right side of the net and at the last second dished it off to Gaudian who bounced a shot past Command keeper Bridget Bianco.
Down 11-10 with just under 3 minutes to play the Command kicked off a stellar comeback that is sure to go down in WPLL history. After battling for the draw control, the ball flew out of play and was given to New England. Hazar worked the ball behind the cage, but could not lose her defender and wasn't able to find any teammates cutting to goal. Hoping to reset, she passed the ball to an open Mupo on the left side of the 8 meter. Mupo caught the ball and sprinted to the other side of the 8 meter, losing her defender in the process and scoring the game-tying goal with 1:32 remaining on the clock.
Baltimore won the resulting draw, and quickly called a timeout to reset. After the timeout the Brave used the clock to their advantage, working the ball around the cage hoping to find the game winning opportunity. Eventually Zimmerman sent a pass to Dobbie, who was covered by McKenzie. Dobbie fumbled the initial pass but remained in possession, until McKenzie caused a turnover and sent the ball to VanThof who found Messinger for the game winner.
After the victory the Command were gifted with a ceremony at midfield and the inaugural WPLL Championship trophy, presented by league Commissioner Jen Adams. Adams then named league MVP, with the inaugural award going to Baltimore's Marie McCool.
The WPLL Championship concludes the 2018 WPLL season. We thank you all for your support during our inaugural year--from our professional games to our WPLL Futures Summit we are excited to continue growing the game of women's lacrosse. Stay tuned for our second season this summer, as well as possible exhibition games this fall.