Photo courtesy of Nick Ierardi

Connor Kelly wills Waterdogs to victory with 9-points and the game-winner

By Wyatt Miller

Jun 17, 2023

In a game where the Waterdogs got drowned at the stripe, Connor Kelly was the team’s saving grace. 

With just under 20 seconds left in the game, the Waterdogs advanced it to Charlie Hayes. Then, a simple transition mistake led Kelly into a sea of green.

As Hayes passed the midfield line, the middle defender stayed on-ball rather than picking up Kelly, who sprinted far ahead of his backside defender and up the left seam. When he got into scoring position, the backline wasn’t high enough. Kelly placed it just inside the left post for a strangely uncontested walk-off goal, and the Waterdogs won 19-18. 

It was his second game-winner in three weeks.

“I gotta sleep with this thing tonight,” Kelly said postgame, pointing to his stick.

Kelly ended the record-breaking game with nine scoring points on six goals and three long balls, setting personal career-highs and PLL season highs in all three. 

In the first two weeks of action, just eight players – including Kelly – had scored a two-point goal, and none of them netted more than one. But to kick off this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, Kelly tripled that in the second half to will the Waterdogs to a comeback win.  

All game, Trevor Baptiste dominated at the stripe with obnoxious ease. The reigning MVP set a PLL record with 31 faceoff wins at a ridiculous 86% win rate, which helped Atlas out to an early lead that stretched to as large as seven in the second half. But in the final quarter, Kelly piled on a pair of twos before the dagger, as the Waterdogs’ 8-3 fourth-quarter run gave them a win in a game where they led for only 10 seconds. 

Kelly currently leads the league in two-point goals and scoring points. When asked about what was working on offense during the game, Kelly simply said, “just shoot, shoot and keep shooting.” And so he did. 

Down four to start the fourth quarter, Kelly got the Waterdogs back in it with a single sidearm swipe, shrinking Atlas’ lead to its smallest since the first quarter.

Surrounded by three Atlas defenders, Kelly was parked behind a Zach Currier screen at the top of the arc. But with time running low on the shot clock and bodies falling in around him, Kelly could only rock back and hope for the best. He let go of a bullet from way behind the line, and somehow zipped it through the mass of bodies and into the back of the net.

Kelly’s sweetest stroke of the day made it a one possession game, 15-13. It also made him the first PLL player with multiple two-point goals in a single game this season, and it didn’t take long to add on. 

That goal was hard to defend, but there were others that were hardly defended. Later in the fourth, the Waterdogs tied the game because of a defensive mishap that happened just a minute before the game-winner. 

Up two with a minute left, Atlas needed one more stop to clinch the game. But when Kelly broke away from Jake Carraway at the top of the arc, Carraway drew both defenders with him. 

That gave Kelly a moment of completely free hands and “that’s a dream come true,” he said, “having your hands free.” He sent a fastball into the back of the net at 91 MPH for his third two-ball of the night, tying the game with 58 seconds remaining. And he’d seal it just 48 seconds later.  

Atlas head coach Mike Pressler was furious about the late-game collapse, saying the team “beat ourselves,” by giving up so many open looks. 

“It was a fundamental mistake. He didn’t get in the hole,” Pressler said about the game-winner. “We’re trying to match up at the midfield line, that’s a junior high-level play, and I’m upset about it… You can’t give them numbers… That is ridiculous, and that is on us.”

Despite Kelly’s massive offensive impact, he didn’t take his first shot until the second quarter. And by then, the Waterdogs already trailed 6-0, the same score they led by last week before blowing the lead. 

“It was the opposite of last week,” Kelly said postgame. “In this league, there’s no deficit too big and the fact that we came back, it speaks volumes to us.”

This time, the ‘Dogs were on the right side of the comeback, and it was largely due to Kelly’s late-game heroics. 

Down six goals and nearing the end of the third quarter, Kelly sparked the comeback with his first two-bomb before capping it off in the fourth. On a backside dodge from Michael Sowers, Kelly turned his skip pass around at a whopping 99 MPH. From the top of the arc, it soared into the net past Jack Concannon’s right shoulder. After review, Kelly’s toe cleared the white line by a fraction of an inch, and it was ruled a two-point goal. 

Earlier this season, Copelan said that winning the two-point battle puts a team at a “distinct advantage,” and that mindset paid dividends tonight. In what “might have been the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Copelan said, Kelly was the driving force behind an inconsistent Waterdogs offense.

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