'Rocks prove a tough climb in WLA final series

Salmonbellies have little opportunity to regroup with Game 3 in Victoria on Wednesday night

Good luck and bad luck came in threes for the New Westminster Salmonbellies.

The senior A Salmonbellies dropped their second straight game of the best-of-seven Western Lacrosse Association final 10-9 to Victoria after taking the visiting Shamrocks into the third period with a three-goal advantage.

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But the league champion ’Rocks found a way to win, tying up the contest with three transition goals before first star and Victoria captain Scott Ranger potted his game-winning hat trick off a slick give-and-go with Dan Dawson in the waning minutes of a classic confrontation at Queen’s Park Arena on Monday.

“That’s a good lacrosse team they’ve got there,” said Ranger after the game. “They came out flying. We were patient, but we need to be even better to beat this team.”

Second star Keegan Bal opened the scoring, with his first of a pair of goals, for the Salmonbellies on a nifty setup from Jordan McBride at 3:33 of the first period – a foreshadowing of how the No. 3 would come into play.

Victoria took a brief 2-1 lead on Cory Conway’s cut to the net. But 34 seconds later, junior call-up Connor Robinson rifled a long shot by Aaron Bold to tie things up.

Two other junior call-ups, Josh Byrne and Nathan Stewart, with his very first career WLA goal, also scored to put New West into a 4-3 lead at the first interval.

In the second period, the Salmonbellies got a similar spark late in the frame, but this time from the back end.

After Logan Schuss put the home team ahead 6-5 at the 14-minute mark, Salmonbellies sparkplug Tyler Crompton turned a turnover into a two-goal advantage just 33 seconds later.

Minutes later, Jeff Cornwall fired a seeing-eye shot to the top corner on an unassisted break and, in the final minute, Mr. Reliable Brendan Ranford potted a third straight transition goal past Bold to put New West up by three heading into the final period.

But everything changed in the third period, when Victoria’s No. 33 Jon Harnett turned a clever deception into a game-turning goal.

The ’Rocks went on to score two more transition goals of their own to knot the contest, setting up Ranger for arguably the series-defining goal.

“It was definitely discouraging,” Bal said of the Shamrocks comeback. “Any time they’re scoring from their back end it’s something you don’t want to see.

“We didn’t do a good enough job answering in the third.”

New West opened the final series on the wrong end of an 11-3 score at the Q Centre on Friday.

The ’Bellies managed to keep Shamrock snipers to within a manageable 11 goals, but without the ability to generate transition opportunities into scores and notching just three goals on 44 shots on goal on Bold, New West has an even bigger challenge ahead if they want to prolong the series past this week.

Bold, who was perhaps miffed at not being selected to a WLA all-start team, was outstanding in goal for Victoria, fashioning a sizzling .932 save percentage in the series opener.

Schuss figured in on all three of New West’s goals, momentarily tying the matchup at 1-1 in the opening three minutes of play before assisting on Bal’s second-period pair, including a shorthanded marker in the final seconds of the frame that shaved the deficit to 7-3.

Victoria stars Corey Small and Rhys Duch led the way with eight and seven points apiece, including our-goal games each for the pair.

“We have a lot of experience,” added Ranger, “we don’t hit the panic button. But we need to play our best to beat this team.”

Bal said there is just one recipe for success against the ’Rocks.

“We just have to play a full 60 minutes, that’s all,” Bal said.

Game 3 is in Victoria tonight (Wednesday) with Game 4 back at Queen’s Park on Friday at 7:45 p.m.

Playoff leaders

Keegan Bal is currently leading the New Westminster Salmonbellies in WLA playoff scoring.

Bal is third overall in points with 23 points, including 12 goals.

Jordan McBride has a team-high 14 assists for the Salmonbellies.

Victoria’s Corey Small leads all scorers with 18 goals and 34 points.

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