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Hill leads Bandits to emotional win over Rock

After leading his Buffalo Bandits to a thrilling win over the Toronto Rock on Friday night, Alex Kedoh Hill had one more task left.

At the end of an interview as the game’s first star, Hill said that there was something he always wanted to say.

“BUFFALO WHAT?” he yelled into the microphone, impersonating the team’s public address announcer. The 12,903 in the First Niagara Center responded on cue: “BANDITS!”

It was a fitting ending to an evening full of energy and drama, which ended in a 15-12 win by Buffalo.

“I always wanted to do that as a kid,” Hill said. “I can take that off my bucket list now.”

Hill and the rest of the Bandits turned in a fourth quarter that was worth shouting about from a Buffalo standpoint. The Bandits (6-5) trailed, 11-8, entering the final 15 minutes. Hill scored three straight goals to supply a huge shot of energy. His teammates rode the wave to a 7-1 outburst over the Rock (9-2) in the decisive period.

“We just wanted to stick to the coach’s game plan,” said Hill, who had four goals overall. “I guess it was my time to shine. My team kept giving me the ball. They made great passes.”

Hill has hat tricks in his last three games, and his development as an all-around force for the Bandits has been astonishing.

“He’s just playing lights out,” said teammate Ryan Benesch, who also had four goals. “It’s been unbelievable to watch. He can play defense, run up the floor, and score three or four goals.”

Buffalo still trailed, 12-11, with less than nine minutes to play. But Dhane Smith tied the game with 8:35 left, and Mark Steenhuis put the Bandits ahead for good with 7:51 to go. John Tavares and Steenhuis added insurance goals, and Buffalo had a huge win over the team with the best record in the league.

Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said it was one of the team’s best victories in his 1½ years on the job here.

“We need to be like that,” he said. “That’s us. Everybody cared. Everybody stepped up. We could have quit ... but we didn’t. Kudos to our guys.”

This was a game that seemed much more likely to end in another disappointing outcome for Buffalo in a matchup with a good divisional rival. The Bandits took an 0-4 record against Toronto and Rochester, the two teams above it in the National Lacrosse League East, into the game. Buffalo needed to show it could play with the league’s best.

“In the second half of the season, we’ve made a lot of adjustments,” defender Steve Priolo said. “We’ll feeling better in our system, but we’re not at our peak yet.”

The Rock and Bandits traded runs for much of the first 45 minutes. Buffalo didn’t score in the final 14:30 of the second period, allowing Toronto to take a 7-5 lead into halftime. Buffalo cut the lead to 8-7 in the third quarter, but then took some penalties. One of them was a five-minute major for high sticking on Hill.

“I got a lot of high hits, what you might call cheap shots,” he said. “I lost my temper, and I actually punched the guy instead of high-sticking him. I was really down, because they have the best power play in the league. You can’t get penalties against them, because they are going to score.”

Toronto scored three straight goals with the extra man to cap a 6 for 7 night on the power play. But then Benesch scored late in the period, and Hill went to work.

“We let it slip away,” Rock coach John Lovell said. “We lost control. When you’re up four goals in this building, you should be able to hold on for the win. We weren’t able to do that.”

The game got out of control in the final minute, which featured a good-sized brawl that resulted in many misconducts and a couple of match penalties. That could be a sign that emotions will be high when the teams meet again in Toronto tonight (7 p.m., Radio 930 AM). Or not.

“When you play lacrosse, you know it can go either way,” said Priolo, who had a spirited brawl with Brodie Merrill. “On the first shift we could go again, or it could be nothing.”