A story like this does not deserve this ending.
The Ohio Machine, in the first playoff game the team has ever seen, fell to the Rochester Rattlers by a score of 15-11 in the Major League Lacrosse playoff semifinal game on the afternoon of Saturday, August 16th, 2014.
Rochester broke away from the surging Machine, which had never before seen a deficit in the game, in the fourth quarter, scoring five unanswered goals and leaving the Machine out of time for any more comeback.
Kevin Leveille, Justin Turri, Jordan Wolf, and Miles Thompson each had a hand in scoring in the fourth quarter for the Machine, the factor which ultimately drained the Machine of its 2014 life.
Even though the fourth quarter ended in Rochester domination, the first quarter started off with fluidity from the Machine, as Marcus Holman, Logan Schuss, and Kevin Cooper knocked in three consecutive goals within the first five minutes of the match to knock Rochester off its feet and come out with a start that reflected their regular-season ending five game winning streak. Long possessions on offense, a 75% face off percentage (6-8), and early defensive stops accompanied by a late Ohio penalty kill created a dead silent atmosphere in Rochester and a dream start for the young Machine squad. After the three goal run early, a timeout by Rochester couldn’t stop Marcus Holman from adding another goal to make the Machine lead 4-0 with 9:33 to go in the quarter. Though Rochester responded with goals (inconsecutive) by Mark Cockerton, Kevin Leveille, and Dave Lawson, Schuss and Kyle Harrison responded with goals of their own to complete a Machine-dominated, 6-3 first round.
The second quarter started playing to a different tune than the first, as the Machine’s inability to pick up neither a ground ball nor the first three face offs provided for multiple Rochester goals. The Rattlers scored two goals (Macintosh, Wolf), both within the nine-minute mark of the quarter. A Machine power play, though, allowed for a continuation of Ohio’s lead, as a goal by Peter Baum kept the club in the lead at 7-5. After a response by Dave Lawson for the Rattlers, putting Rochester within one, Baum added his second of the quarter to slam the door on Rochester and to end the half with the Machine owning a two-goal cushion.
After halftime, the Machine started the third quarter the way it started the game itself, scoring just a minute and a half out of the gate by the stick of Peter Baum to increase the Machine’s lead to three goals. Even though the Machine still made equal impact offensively as they did in the first two quarters, play decidedly became more even as Rochester began to find its legs on defense and began to pick up more ground balls and face offs. By the end of the third quarter, the Rattlers had managed to claw their way back within one because of three goals by Kevin Leveille and one by Jordan Wolf to make for a 11-10 Machine lead.
Going into the fourth quarter, one could feel a slow and steady decrease of Ohio Machine stamina, or even that “oiled-up” charisma seen so many times in the regular season. Like jello or “flubber”, per say, the average fan might have felt the sensation of his game and his team slipping towards the floor in one giant mass, especially after trying to grip onto it harder. In a grand disaster of surrendered ground balls, missed face offs, and one-step-behind defensive play by the Machine, the Rattlers started to outwork and outsmart the young team from Delaware, Ohio, tying the game three minutes into the quarter. Though much time was left, one could feel that it was only a matter of time before the team from New York broke away. One could sense and see the gaining strength of Rochester coming at the expense of weakening morale for Ohio. About 8 minutes into the quarter, it proved too much for the Machine to handle. A multiple-chance Rochester offensive possession resulted in a goal by Justin Turri, one that would put Rochester in the lead and keep them there for the remainder of the match. Two more goals were scored against the Machine within the same minute, and, despite some offensive effort, Ohio stayed silent to take the death of the 2014 season. Kevin Leveille put the nails in the hypothetical coffin by scoring with just under five minutes to go to put Rochester in the lead by four goals, 15-11.
Leveille was named the definitive Most Valuable Player of the game, scoring 6 goals to notch a game-leading six total points on the night. Leading the way for the Rattlers, Leveille was followed by Jordan Wolf, who added an additional three goals and two assists for Rochester.
The face off X proved to be one of the main factors in deciding a victor in the four-goal spread. The Ohio duo of Eric O’Brien and Bobby Datillo went a combined 13-30 in their respective chances, while Rochester acheived an opposing 17-30 to gain four more possessions than the Machine. Additionally, Ohio only grabbed 32 ground balls as opposed to Rochester’s 44, creating a whopping 16-possession differential just between those two statistics.
Though, in a bright spot for the Machine, Logan Schuss had an impressive offensive showing, scoring two goals and adding a team-leading three assists to lead the Machine with five points. Peter Baum also added three goals for the club, leading the team.
High spots such as Schuss and Baum show this writer why not to lambast this club in this, a final look at the game and the whole Ohio Machine season. Looking back, one can remember when the club would have disastrous second quarters en route to bursting out in the third quarter, or the times when the offense would be in a stalemate and the defense just could not seem to communicate properly. Obviously, one cannot just sit here and make excuses for blowing a multiple goal lead held for most of the game. The team’s hidden woes all year long, defense and retrieving ground balls, two categories in which the Machine ranked near the bottom of the MLL all year, plus the addition of the overall youth of the club, made for an amplification of an overall imbalance on the grand stage categorized by substantially less possessions than the opposition. In reality, the Machine choked themselves off from winning the playoff semifinal.
Even though the result can be analyzed much deeper than previously described, this writer is inclined to take a step back and realize why this is ultimately an improvement, a stepping stone for the Ohio Machine. All year, the pet phrase “coming up a bit short” has been used to describe the various woes the team has endured, and (mostly) overcome, this year. Always the squad seemed one step behind, usually falling behind early in the game only to take the lead with seconds to spare, to rob the opposition of time and steal the result of games that the other team may have felt comfortable with. Always so close. Almost there.
Well, tonight, one can believe that the Ohio Machine truly broke out of that shell this afternoon. Instead of staying within the boundaries of the status quo, the club scored four unanswered goals to begin the game and held what looked to be an indescribable swagger and passion on the field for the first three quarters of the game.
Unfortunately, it proved to be a swagger and passion that was stored in a bottle, a potion that had a limit, as the Machine ran out of it going into the fourth quarter.
There, though, is where the real hope lies for the future, because intead of “coming just a bit short”, the Ohio Machine simply “ran out of oil” for 2014. Even though there are still noticeable problems to be fixed, such as where to increase this “oil-count” for 2015, this writer is inclined to believe that the Ohio Machine took a step on Saturday that few sports teams can take in present day: acheiving control of themselves and their game, going on a five game winning streak to end the regular season, having true momentum and camaradere.
They just lost grip, a grip to be rediscovered in 2015.