Kielty vs Sowers

Semifinals Preview: Cannons vs Waterdogs

By Grant DelVecchio

Sep 10, 2023

The night cap of this year’s semifinals will feature the Cannons and Waterdogs in a meeting between last year’s last place team and the defending champions. 

This will be the toughest test yet for the Boom Squad on their improbable journey from one win season to one win away from a championship appearance. Here are three things to pay close attention to as the Cannons try to dethrone the Dogs: 

Michael Sowers vs. Jack Kielty

Matchups like this are what make games like these so exciting. 

When the Cannons want someone to disappear, they put Jack Kielty on him. The question heading into the Boom Squad’s quarterfinal matchup against Atlas was how they would contain Chris Gray. Kielty was the answer. Gray was held without a goal for just the second time all season and shot 0-for-6. 

If the Cannons want to take down the reigning champs, they’ll have to find a way to slow down the Dogs’ dangerous attack line. Specifically, Kieran McArdle and Michael Sowers, who combined for 15 points in the quarterfinal victory over the Whips. Teams have had to choose between sliding to McArdle or Sowers this season, which has led to the two of them thriving off of one another.

In the context of the regular season contest between these two teams, I expect Kielty to get the matchup on Sowers. Sowers posted a hat-trick and added two assists in Baltimore, but shot 0-for-7 when defended by Kielty and 3-for-12 for the game. Two of his goals came on the power play. With Kielty defending Sowers, the choice between sliding to Sowers or McArdle becomes simpler: the slides go to McArdle. Sowers often initiates from behind the goal, and the Cannons defense has allowed the fewest goals from X in the league.

Sowers is an elite talent who over the last two seasons has played his best lacrosse when the stakes are the highest (see: 2022 Cash App Championship). The duel between him and Kielty is one between two 2021 draft picks and former ACC foes who have both quickly risen to the upper echelon of the PLL at their respective positions. I’m excited to see who wins this round.

Goalie battle: Dillon Ward vs Colin Kirst

Dillon Ward didn’t play against the Cannons the first time around. That is significant. 

All three of the Waterdogs' losses this season came without Ward in net. Ward made 18 saves against the Whipsnakes in the quarterfinals and has saved over 60 percent of the shots he’s seen this season. Aside from being one of the best shot stoppers in the world, Ward also excels at creating transition opportunities for his offense. He’s created five goals off of saves this season, the third highest total in the league despite missing four games in the regular season.

On the Cannons side, Colin Kirst was named a finalist for the Oren Lyons Goalie of the Year award in his first season as a starter. The Cannons have only lost one of Kirst’s nine starts this season. Though the Boom Squad offense is justifiably garnering a lot of attention, the Cannons five game win streak in the regular season coincided with the move to Kirst in net.

Blaze Riorden and Brett Dobson are the only two goalies that had a higher save percentage and played an equivalent amount of games. With Kirst in between the pipes, the Cannons have also allowed the third fewest scores against in the league (11.0). 

One thing to keep an eye on is the potential for the Waterdogs to capitalize on second chance opportunities. The Dogs led the league in offensive rebounding this season, and one of Kirst’s few weaknesses is his tendency to give up rebounds; 74.4 percent of his saves this season were “messy” or led to a potential rebound, the second highest rate in the league. 

Cannons rope unit vs. Waterdogs midfield

The Cannons rope unit this season has arguably been the linchpin of the team. Head Coach Brian Holman and defensive coordinator Mikey Thompson’s defense caused the most turnovers in PLL history this season with 97 in the regular season and nine last week against Atlas. 

On the other hand, the Waterdogs tied the Cannons for the fewest turnovers in the league this season, and have one of the most well-balanced midfield units in the PLL. The Waterdogs were the only team this season to have five midfielders score ten or more points. 

The matchups between these two position groupings will be fluid throughout the game, but all of the potential variations are enticing. As a lacrosse fan, the thought of Zach Goodrich and Zach Currier going to battle should excite you. Goodrich and Bubba Fairman have been the best short stick duo in the league this season, and Ethan Rall has consistently been a game changer. Pat Aslanian and Jeff Trainor are the unsung difference makers of the group. Currier, Connor Kelly and Ryan Conrad were all held scoreless for the Waterdogs in Baltimore, but Jake Carraway and Thomas McConvey were both injured during the game.

If the Cannons are going to put the Dogs back in their crate, it’s going to take a meager performance from Sowers, a clean outing from Colin Kirst, and another disruptive effort from the rope unit.

Share This With Friends