The Lizards' slim chances of making the Major League Lacrosse playoffs were crushed Saturday night with a 13-12 loss to the Rochester Rattlers at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.
The Lizards, losers of five straight games, fell to 3-9 with two regular season games remaining. After the Lizards captured the lead for the first time with 7:34 left in the fourth quarter courtesy of a goal by Tom Palasek, the Rattlers scored twice inside the final five minutes. Steve DeNapoli scored the winner for the Rattlers (5-7) with 4:33 left.
"It's tough," said midfielder David Earl, who had three goals. "There are so many good teams in this league so if you don't play close to a perfect game then you're not going to win."
The Rattlers scored three goals in the game's first three minutes, and enjoyed a 5-2 lead after the first quarter. Dave Lawson, who finished with a game-high five goals, had a hat trick in the period.
"I thought our defense was bad in the first quarter," Lizards coach Joe Spallina said. "But all their goals came from their midfield; our close defense was phenomenal."
Though the Lizards may have won the one-on-one matchup battles, they were plagued by early turnovers, which led to transition goals for the Rattlers from defensive midfielders.
After trailing 8-4 in the middle of the third quarter, the Lizards ended the period on a high note. They stopped the turnovers while clearing in attempts to move down field, connected on mid-range shots and passed the ball with precision to open teammates. The result was three goals during the quarter's final four minutes to get within one.
"Every game is a game of runs," Earl said. "The great teams can stop them and recover and then bounce back and start one of their own, and I think that's what we did in the second half."
The scoring run continued for the Lizards in the fourth, as Rob Pannell, who had three goals, tied the score at 11 with nine minutes left. Pannell swarmed toward the middle of the goal and connected from a few yards away and afterward celebrated with an emotional fist-pump, reminiscent of his final days at Duke during the NCAA Final Four last spring.
"It was great to see him play with that emotion and bring a little feistiness," Spallina said.
Yet the Rattlers appeared anything but rattled. After Palasek put the Lizards up by one for the first time, Lawson scored his fifth goal for the Rattlers with five minutes left and DeNapoli added the final blow 30 seconds later.
The Lizards will play host to the undefeated Denver Outlaws Sunday, before concluding the season at home against the Ohio Machine on Aug. 10.
"In this league, when you hold a team to 13 goals, you got to win," Spallina said. "Now we have to look ahead and try to ruin Denver's perfect season. We have to keep battling. We have guys fighting for their positions and their pride."