It took just short of four months and 16 total games, but now the Ohio Machine have officially earned the title of 2017 Major League Lacrosse Champions. From 2006 to 2010, the Machine operated out of Chicago, before being revived in Columbus for the 2012 season. After struggling through their first two campaigns in the Buckeye State, the Machine made the semifinals in back-to-back years, only to fall short to the Rattlers in both match-ups. Last year, Ohio finally broke through the semis, only to suffer a rain delay-fueled comeback by the Outlaws in the finals.
Machine 17, Outlaws 12
Ready for revenge, the Machine came out hot in 2017’s grand finale. Ohio stuck to the gameplan heavily through the first and final frames, enough to get the job done. The other 30 minutes, at times, looked much more like Denver’s game to lose. Over 7.5k fans flooded Ford Field at The Star in Frisco, Texas for the second-ever MLL event in the Lone Star State and they were treated to an absolute spectacle.
A pair of Hoos, known for their behind-the-scenes efforts, opened up the game for the Machine. Mark Cockerton struck in the first minute of the game, with Pat Harbeson not far off his heels. It took 6 minutes for Denver to get on the board, but they would get hot in clusters, Wes Berg and Eric Law evening up the score, before Powell Pathfinder could bury his first, stealing away the lead.
Understanding the power of runs, Connor Cannizzaro carried the weight for his team straight to the bank. Registering two consecutive points to close the quarter, Cannizzaro pushed the Machine up, 4-3, at the first break. Tom Schreiber would tack on an unassisted goal in the first few minutes of the second, then, for whatever reason, the Machine went on a nearly 20 minute lull.
Matt Kavanagh fired back for Denver, bringing the score back within a goal, before knotting the game at 5, nearly 7 minutes later. A one minute Unnecessary Roughness committed by the Outlaws would result in the lone Machine goal of the skid, Marcus Holman notching his first. Zach Currier fired back to lock the score up, before Mike Bocklet could sneak a late ball in at the buzzer to nab a, 7-6, lead.
After the Machine got off to a hot start, the game was quickly turning in favor of the Outlaws. Berg came back around to open up the half in the first minute, but it would be the only action in the opening five minutes. Following him again, Law stayed hot on Berg’s trail to make it a three goal game, before Berg could ring up an insurance goal minutes later. Then, somehow, someway, the monster inside the Machine started to stir. One by one, the goals started to fall. Peter Baum contributed to the scoring column with two deep snipes, on either side of a long-range stinger from Kyle Harrison. The quick swing from Ohio evened out the quarter, holding them down by a lone goal with 15 minutes left.
To just about anyone watching the game, it surely looked like Matt Kavanagh was going to be the difference maker and MVP. After his timely first two goals, Kavanagh sunk the first goal of the fourth, then hammered in his fourth at the 4:30 mark, after a response tally from Ohio. Keeping his team’s one goal lead, Kavanagh put Denver in position to claim their third of the last four MLL Championships.
Then, that monster inside of the Machine went from a groggy wakeup, to full blown terror. Moments after Kavanagh struck his fourth, Jake Bernhardt dug his heels in and started to turn the ship around. Baum registered his third helper, finding Bernhardt to pull back within one. Off the very next whistle, face-off athlete Greg Puskuldjian blew past Thomas Kelly and straight down Main Street, netting the electrifying equalizer.
At that point, Marcus Holman decided he wanted to be a star. The lead by example attackman let it fly from time and room, not once, twice, but three times in a row for the natural hat trick. Taking the lead back for Ohio for the first time since the first quarter, the trio completely knocked all wind out of the Denver sails and put Ohio up by 3 goals with 4 minutes left.
The Machine’s lockdown defense, backed by an 11 save performance from sophomore star Kyle Bernlohr, thwarted any chance of a late surge from the Outlaws. Meanwhile, Bernhardt pushed in his second, Cockerton following with his fourth of the match. An unanswered 7 goal spree from the Machine would hammer every last nail into the coffin, outright earning Ohio their first league title.
A four goal, two assist showing from Marcus Holman would earn the attackman his first MLL Championship MVP honor. This was the 3rd award Ohio would win this season, Schreiber taking the season’s overall MVP title and Bernlohr earning Most Improved Player of the Year. Five total Machine would earn All-Pro honors: Peter Baum, Tom Schreiber, Matt McMahon, Brian Karalunas, Marcus Holman.