Waterdogs clinch playoff berth with dominant second-half performance

By Lauren Merola | Aug 2, 2021

Kieran McArdle and Ethan Walker had four points apiece to lift the Waterdogs 11-6 over the Whipsnakes Sunday in Colorado Springs.

McArdle got his hands free off a two-man game with Zach Currier and ripped a two-pointer to give the Waterdogs their first lead of the game early in the third quarter. Ryland Rees bounced in a long-pole two-bomb to give the Waterdogs the 7-4 boost and set the tempo for the 10-0 run. The Waterdogs never lost the lead.

The Whipsnakes came out the half up 4-2 and didn’t score again until half way through the fourth quarter, when Chris Aslanian ended the drought to make it 11-5.

Waterdogs LC didn’t exist in 2019 and the teams didn’t meet in 2020. In the first ever Waterdogs-Whipsnakes clash, the Dogs secure a playoff spot and climb into second place.

Dillon Ward came up with 19 saves for the Waterdogs. His 76% save percentage is the fourth highest in PLL history. Adam Ghitelman holds the record with 82% from the Archers June 5 matchup against Atlas.

“They’re playing very connected defense right now,” Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan said of his team. “We settled into a lineup, I think that certainly has something to do with it. Dillon Ward, his last three outings, he has to be in the high 60s, rated 70%. Defense has confidence in him and he has confidence in the guys in front of him.”

In his last three games against the Whipsnakes, Chrome and Cannons, Ward saved 38 of 56 shots for an average of 67.9%. When asked about his performance on the sideline, Ward said clinching a playoff spot was all that mattered.

The Waterdogs held the Whipsnakes scoreless in the third and into the fourth until Aslanian scored his sixth goal of the season with 6:48 left in the game. Mike Chanenchuk added another one minute later to bring the game within five, but the clock would run out at 11-6.

On offense, the Waterdogs also played as one, posting seven assists to the Whipsnakes’ two. 

Everything seemed to click for the Waterdogs in the second half, but for the whole 48 minutes, Jake Withers was at the top of his game.

Withers went 14-19 at the stripe (74%), beating Joe Nardella to 7-11 ground balls.

In the first half, both teams overthrew passes and missed ground balls. There were back-and-forth interceptions and violations. Through the first seven minutes, the Waterdogs shot five and the Whipsnakes four. Both teams were getting looks, but having trouble finding twine.

Jay Carlson opened up the game with a behind-the-back highlight and was the only Whipsnake stimulating the offense. On another signature-Carlson play, he found the ground ball in front of the crease and flipped it past Ward. Right after, Carlson fell by the crease and shot it in with a rare-lefty goal from the ground. He ended the first half with a hat trick.

We were a little snakebitten in the first half,” Copelan said. “We didn’t dodge as assertively as I would’ve liked for us to have. Credit to Carlson, in particular, he had a first half hat trick. He just has a scrappy way of producing. I felt like as we became a little scrappier, a little grittier in the second half, luck went our way.”

Ryan Brown equalized the game at one with a minute left in the first. The first quarter ended 1-1, and Brown said both teams looked slow at first.

“You look at both teams and we look like we just got out of bed, which we kind of did,” Brown said after his goal.

The game started at 9:15 a.m. MT. After a sleepy first half, the Waterdogs woke up and brought the heat out the gate in the third quarter. The Whipsnakes couldn’t keep up and dropped their second-straight matchup.

Brown had three goals for the Dogs. Chanenchuk, Aslanian and Ryan Tierney each added one goal for the Whips. 

Without veteran Matt Rambo, the Whipsnakes needed more offensive power out of Zed Williams, but the Waterdogs double-teamed Williams and pressured him hard near the crease. The 2020 PLL MVP ended the day with zero points and three turnovers.

Whipsnakes head coach Jim Stagnitta said he hopes to have Rambo back on the active roster for Week 8 in Albany. Stagnitta admitted the team suffers when its veterans are injured.

“We were not very consistent on the offensive end,” Stagnitta said. “We’re struggling right now. We were not a good offensive team. I give Jake and [the Waterogs] rope unit a lot of credit. They controlled the middle of the field. We just weren’t very good, honestly. Part of it has to do with the Waterdogs but a good bit of it has to do with us.”

The Whipsnakes look to bounce back against the Redwoods after the bye week.

“We really have to come back and people have to look themselves in the mirror and, if we’re going to turn this ship around, we have to go to do it,” Michael Ehrhardt said. “There’s no excuses, on both sides of the field.”

In Week 8, the Waterdogs battle Atlas for that first place spot and first-round bye.

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