KENNESAW — Oh, so close.
It appeared that the Atlanta Blaze had tied the game with 28 seconds remaining, and a shot at going to the playoffs for the first time was obtainable after trailing by as many four goals at the end of the third quarter.
Connor Kelly scored an open 2-point shot, but upon further review, officials ruled that Kelly’s foot touched the 2-point arc while he got the shot off, and Atlanta had to settle for one point instead of two.
The Blaze could not get back into scoring position in the game’s final seconds and lost 15-14 in Saturday’s regular-season finale at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
That left Denver (8-6) to clinch one of the final
two of four Major League Lacrosse playoff berths, and Atlanta (7-7) to turn its focus toward next year.
“I was in the 2-point arc,” Kelly said. “I was in it, and I saw the line and tried to step back. I got that 2-pointer off, and they reviewed it.”
It was a tough way to end the 2018 season for Atlanta, which was on a four-match winning streak going into Saturday’s game.
The third quarter ended up being the Blaze’s undoing. They were outscored 6-1 and attempted just six shots, while Denver got off 12 attempts, with half being successful.
Atlanta also went into a lull after taking an 8-3 lead nearly 4 minutes into the second quarter. It went scoreless for the next 19 minutes, allowing Denver to score eight unanswered points.
Atlanta had a hard time stopping Eric Law, who led Denver with five goals. Josh Hawkins, Zach Currier, Drew Snider, Mikie Schlosser, Matt Kavanagh and Kylor Belistri each scored two.
The Blaze seemed to lose a little bit of fire when Kavanagh scored to give the Outlaws the lead for good at 9-8. Atlanta challenged that Kavanagh went inside the crease, but the appeal was overruled.
Afterward, it seemed that Denver was able to score its next four goals at will, but Atlanta bounced back at the start of the fourth quarter and reeled off three quick goals to get within one of the Outlaws. However, a combination of saves by Denver goalkeeper Dillon Ward,Atlanta turnovers and the Blaze being calledfor a shot clock violation
prevented them from tying.
Law scored an insurance goal with 5:04 left in the game to Denver ahead by two. Atlanta answered with a wrap-around goal by Kevin Rice at the 3:13 mark, but it was called back for a 30-second pushing foul.
Then, Atlanta caught another tough break when Kelly’s 2-point goal attempt was ruled to only be worth one.
Although the Blaze did not get the outcome they wanted Saturday, first-year coach Liam Banks was confident about the direction the team is heading.
“I’m proud of this team and the organization,” he said. “Our new owner came in three months ago, and this thing has been completely different. We had some good momentum (late in the season). We just came up short and ran out of time (Saturday).”
Rice and Christian Cuccinello
scored three goals each to lead the Blaze. Kelly and Tommy Palasek both scored two.
Atlanta started fast and accumulated six unanswered points to take a 6-1 lead after Denver got on the board early in the game. Five of the Blaze’s goals came following a 90-minute lightning delay.
Former Walton High School standout Scott Ratliff fired a 2-point goal during the run, with Rice, Cuccinello and Jack Korzelius also chipping in.
Cuccinello scored from close range to open an 8-3 early in the second quarter, not knowing it would be Atlanta’s final goal of the first half. Denver scored four unanswered to get within a goal at the half. Law scored two of his five goals in the final 10 seconds of the half.