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Bandits beat Knighthawks to clinch playoff spot

The Buffalo Bandits will be playing indoor lacrosse in May.

“That’s the No. 1 goal,” Bandits’ coach Troy Cordingley said after his team wrapped up a playoff spot with its 14-12 win over the Rochester Knighthawks on Saturday night.

The victory came before 17,397 in First Niagara Center, the second-largest crowd of the season. Those who attended saw an exciting, back-and-forth contest that wasn’t decided until the last couple of minutes.

In other words, it was a typical night at the office for these two rivals.

The game-winning goal developed quickly and came from a slightly unexpected source – meaning Bandits’ superstar Dhane Smith had nothing to do with it. With the score tied, 12-12, late in the fourth quarter, David Brock created a turnover in his own end and started charging down the field.

Then Brock spotted Kevin Brownell ahead of him, and hit him with a pass. Brownell had a clear path in front of him, and enough time to give a little thought to what he might do with the shot.

“Most of the night I was just trying to find the open man and move it up the floor – get the ball to the guys coming off the bench,” Brownell said. “I just sprung up the floor. I made the decision to shoot it. We watch a lot of film on the other team and try to figure out their tendencies. It’s a little bit instinctive.”

Brownell’s high shot beat Matt Vinc of the Knighthawks with 1:38 left to give the Bandits a one-goal lead. Thirty-four seconds later, Steve Priolo tallied into the empty net to provide some insurance. The Bandits ran out the clock from there.

The hard-earned win was Buffalo’s sixth straight triumph. The Bandits haven’t had a winning streak of that length since 2007.

“One positive, and we spoke to the players about this, is that we found a way to win,” Cordingley said. “We said that was an awfully good team we just beat. Yes, we know we can be better, but a W is a W.”

It was a big night for Smith in terms of individual achievements, as he broke a couple of important team records. The forward went past Ryan Benesch’s team record of 55 goals in a season, set last season. Then later in the game he passed John Tavares’ mark for points in a season of 115. It only took him 14 games.

“To be honest, it’s a cool thing to do,” Smith said. “To set the records in a loss wouldn’t have been as good. I’ll remember this for the rest for my life.”

Asked if teammate Benesch or assistant coach Tavares said anything about their broken records, Smith replied, “Not yet – but I’m sure I’ll hear about it later.”

Smith had five goals but no assists with 15 shots. The five points is a little bit below his usual standards this season. Smith said Rochester was very aware of where he was on the floor.

“I was feeling like they were locking me out of the play,” Smith said.

“Dhane is Dhane – he had five goals and they were all important goals for the team,” Cordingley added. “He is a man on a mission.”

Priolo and Anthony Malcolm chipped in with two goals each, while Benesch added three points. Dan Dawson finished with two goals and five assists for the Knighthawks, while Cody Jamieson added three goals and two assists.

Nothing about the postseason seemed assured a few weeks ago when the Bandits were 4-4 and right in the middle of the standings. Now they are 10-4 and a game ahead of New England in the National Lacrosse League’s East Division.

“We’ve put a lot of systems in, and we’ve bought in,” Brownell said. “And our offense has been scoring at a ridiculous rate – 15 or 16 per game most of the time.

“We’ve sort of bottled up that magic, and it’s six games in a row now.”

Buffalo has two games coming up next week. The Bandits will play the Rock on Friday night in Toronto. The teams then will come to First Niagara Center a night later.

email: bbailey@buffnews.com