(DULUTH, Ga.) – The Georgia Swarm (8-10) will head on the road Friday evening to face the New England Black Wolves (10-8) in the East Division Semifinals at 7 p.m. ET from Mohegan Sun Arena. Fans can watch the game live on NLLTV.com. Friday night’s winner will advance to the East Division Finals against the Buffalo Bandits (13-5).
Georgia finished the regular season on a tear, winning four of its final five games, to jump past the Rochester Knighthawks (7-11) for the final playoff spot in the East. During those four wins, the Swarm outscored their opponents 64-36, which equated to an average score of 16-9. During last Saturday’s dominating home performance against Vancouver, the Swarm led 10-1 at halftime and continued their balanced scoring attack en route to a 14-6 victory.
“Our playoffs started earlier,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “We started playing playoff-style lacrosse there toward the end to make a run. When you make the playoffs, the intensity, urgency and the focus is even more in the forefront and I think our guys did a really good job of making sure that in most games and most shifts, that we brought the intensity, urgency and focus that we needed to be successful.”
The Swarm finished the regular season ranked as the league’s No. 2 scoring offense (13.2 GPG) and was led by rookie forward Randy Staats, who set new NLL rookie single-season records for points (95) and assists (59). Fellow rookie, Jesse King, ranked third on the team with 77 points (22G, 55A), and both Shayne Jackson (83 PTS) and Johnny Powless (72 PTS) posted career-best scoring seasons. No. 1 overall pick Lyle Thompson registered 60 points (27G, 33A) and Kiel Matisz tied a personal best 62 points (14G, 48A) as well for the Swarm.
“We knew that we had a lot of talented guys, but in any situation like this, we didn’t know how they were going to all mesh together,” Comeau said. “To watch the guys play and see how they played unselfishly, how well the ball moved; I heard from many other coaches who watched our offense how much they enjoyed watching us play and how highly they thought of it. It was great to hear, and again, credit to the guys that nobody let anything other than the success of the team get in the way. When our offense is playing well and we’re moving the ball and our feet, we’re hard to defend because there’s really no one guy to key-in on our team.”
Heading into Friday night’s game, Georgia and New England are two teams that know each other well as they squared off four times in the regular season. The Swarm lost the season series, 3-1, however one of those contests was a one-goal loss in New England after the Black Wolves scored with four seconds left in regulation.
“I don’t think we’re going to do anything different than what they expect, and same for them,” Comeau said. “That’s the one thing you get when you see a team that many times. Having said that, the regular season means nothing at this point to either team. Everyone is zero-zero. We know they’re a good team and they’ve played us really tough in New England and we’re going to need to do something difficult which is go on the road and beat a higher-seed. It’s not unheard of in this league, and we’re up to the challenge.”
Reigning NLL MVP Shawn Evans led New England in scoring and ranked second in the league in scoring with 118 points (50G, 68A). Similar to the Swarm, New England’s offense was also a strong point in 2016, and the Black Wolves finished third in the league in scoring. The last time the Swarm visited the Black Wolves on April 23, Evans and Co. had their best performance of the season during a 21-11 win. That night, the Swarm led 5-3 at the end of the first quarter and scored the first three goals in the second half to tie the game at nine, but down the stretch, Georgia lost control of the game.
“When you let one player get a lot of points, it’s not a good situation,” Comeau said. “I thought we did a good job early in the game, but we got away from our gameplan, we lost a little focus and as I said earlier, at this level, that’s key at this stage of the season. Things go wrong for a shift, and we have to re-focus and get back on track.”
While the Swarm’s offense has earned a lot of praise this season, the team’s defense has made their improvements since the start of the year and is playing its best ball at the right time. Georgia held its opponents to an average of just nine goals during their last four wins of the regular season. In net, both Brodie MacDonald and Zach Higgins made their marks, while the team’s 5-on-5 play and transition game became more impactful. Team captain Jordan MacIntosh led the NLL in loose balls with 182 and notched a career-best 26 forced turnovers. Similarly, fellow transition player Joel White led the league in loose balls amongst non-faceoff players with 143 and posted a personal best 32 forced turnovers.
“Those two have been huge for us,” said Comeau in regards to MacIntosh and White. “Jordan has the faceoff role, which is a lot of hard work, a lot of minutes. He’s done a really good job for us there. I think defensively he’s gotten better as the year has gone on. His leadership is real critical to our group and he’s done a great job of that. With Joel, I think he started out a little slow this year and was just trying to find his way again with a new system. But certainly from that point on, he’s been solid defensively and in transition.”
Should the Swarm advance to the East Division Finals, Georgia will host Game 1 against the Buffalo Bandits on Saturday, May 14 at 7:35 p.m. ET at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena. To reserve your playoff tickets, call 844-4-GASWARM.
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