McArdle and Sowers combine for eight points to send Waterdogs to Championship game

By Lauren Merola | Sep 12, 2022

Kieran McArdle scored three goals to send the Waterdogs to the championship game with their 11-10 victory over the Whipsnakes in Washington D.C. on Sunday.

With 3:47 left to play, Matt Whitcher unleashed a shot from a step inside the arc off the transition to even the game at 10. Two minutes later, Connor Kelly drew a double team on the right side and dished it to Ethan Walker at X, who quickly found an open McArdle for the top-shelf rip and game-winning goal.

The Whipsnakes had a chance to tie it with 11.7 seconds remaining. Coming out of a timeout, Brad Smith started with the ball up top and Mike Chanenchuk set the pick for him, but they couldn’t get a shot to go.

“Brad is certainly our most dynamic and athletic dodger,” Whipsnakes coach Jim Stagnitta said. “With 10 seconds left, you don’t have much time to be creative or fancy. We wanted the ball in his stick to get to cage or read the situation as best he could. We had Channy setting the pick. We hoped to get one of them to the middle of the field and get a shot off, but Dillon Ward was at a place today where it had to be a pretty good shot to go in.”

With the loss, the Whipsnakes won’t be in the championship game for the first time in League history.

For the second time this season, the Waterdogs beat the Whipsnakes 11-10. The teams first met in Week 5, where the Waterdogs became the first and only team to hand the Whipsnakes a loss all season behind. In Week 5, McArdle also scored the game-winning goal with under two minutes to play.

In net, Dillon Ward posted historic numbers, saving a season-high 17 shots on 63%, his second-highest save percentage of the season. His best save percentage, 67%, came in Week 5 against the Whipsnakes. Kyle Bernlohr had eight saves on 42%.

“Ward has won at every single level,” McArdle said. “From junior to senior, to NLL championships, to world games and in the MLL. He’s battle-tested. Nothing rattles him.”

In the first quarter, Mikie Schlosser went down with a lower extremity injury and left the game on crutches. Michael Sowers also tweaked his hamstring but stayed on the field. It was tough for the Waterdogs, as Sowers scored the team’s first three goals and was then locked down the rest of the game.

Despite being somewhat restricted, Sowers occupied the Whipsnakes’ defensive leader, Matt Dunn, all game, giving space for other Waterdogs to create offense.

“Back at Fairfield, it was almost the same thing,” McArdle said. “Guys went down. You go through those experiences throughout the season. When playoffs come, you remain calm. Your leaders step up. You have to grind it out, and that’s what we did today.”

In the first half, the Whipsnakes ran, scoring a few goals in transition. They tamed Zach Currier, holding him to zero points, until the second half, where he opened scoring eight seconds into the third quarter to bring the Waterdogs back within one.

Matt Rambo then scored to give the Whipsnakes a two-goal cushion. Just when it looked like the Whipsnakes would run away with it, the Waterdogs scored two goals to tie it at seven.

They were tied twice more in the fourth quarter, at eight and 10.

For the Waterdogs, Walker scored two goals. Currier, Whitcher and Ryan Conrad each had one. On the Whipsnakes, Smith, Rambo and Zed Williams each netted two.

At the stripe, Jake Withers went 11-for-23 on 48% and Joe Nardella went 13-for-24 on 54%. Nardella won most clamps, but Withers and the Waterdogs put up a fight on the ground. The wings were involved in nearly every faceoff.

“That’s Team Canada’s faceoff unit, so there’s a ton of familiarity there,” Waterdogs coach Andy Copelan said of his line.

In the second half, the Waterdogs moved Currier from Michael Erdhardt’s side of the wing to the opposite side.

“I made a decision at the end of the second quarter to stick with a side and we’d go out there and scrap,” Ehrhardt said. “With those guys, it’s going to be a three-on-three battle every time. The two great faceoff guys. Joe does a great job getting the ball out. The Waterdogs’ wings are so good. Currier doesn’t give up.”

Withers grabbed five ground balls to Nardella’s two. Currier picked up four and Ehrhardt nine.

On the night, the Whipsnakes grabbed 37 ground balls to the Waterdogs’ 30.

Still, the Waterdogs got it done. They play the defending champion, Chaos, in Philadelphia on Sunday at 3:00 PM ET on ABC and ESPN+.