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Bandits' playoff hopes die in painful and historic manner

This may sound familiar to Buffalo’s sports fans: Another local team will miss the playoffs.

The Bandits joined their sports “cousins,” the Bills and Sabres, on the outside looking in at the postseason. They lost any hopes of reaching the playoffs in a Saturday night loss to the Georgia Swarm.

But it’s the “how it happened” that left everyone in the KeyBank Center almost speechless by the time the third quarter was half over.

The score – 20-7 – only gives a clue as to how painful the team’s performance was.

“It was actually disgusting,” veteran Mark Steenhuis said. “We’re at home, playing for our lives, and playing on a night honoring someone who showed a tremendous amount of courage (the late Tucker Williams, the son of ex-Bandit Shawn Williams). I don’t know if I’ve seen a worse loss. There are no excuses. It was awful.”

The team set a record for the worst home loss (13 goals), and came within a goal of matching a 2013 21-7 defeat in Minnesota. That game was also the last time that Buffalo allowed at least 20 goals in a game. Georgia probably could have run up the score to break that mark, but the Swarm for the most part showed little interest in bothering to add to its offensive totals in the final minutes.

The Bandits needed a few things to go right in the final two weeks to reach the postseason, but they took care of their own chances with an historic thud. Buffalo set a team record for most losses in a season with 11 against only six wins.

And it was all so unexpected for a team that entered the season as the defending champs in the National Lacrosse League East Division, losing in the finals in 2016.

“That’s the worst beating of my lacrosse career, and it came in the most important game of the year,” defender Steve Priolo said. “That just about sums up our season.”

Coach Troy Cordingley added, “That was an embarrassing effort. We were outclassed right from the get-go. We’re supposed to be battling for your life on a special night for Tucker Williams, and then we had a performance like that.”

The day’s problems started eight hours before gametime when Dhane Smith hurt his ankle during the morning shootaround. He was ruled out of the game before his teammates had even showered after the workout.

“Everyone’s stomach just sank when we heard that, and we can’t have that,” Priolo said. “But when Dhane went down, you could just feel it.”

Sometimes team rally together in such situations, but this one couldn’t and didn’t.

“That’s why it’s called a team,” Cordingley said. “Everybody is supposed to pick up their game. There are no excuses. Teams lose players all the time.”

When the game started, the Bandits had yet another bad start to the game. They gave up the first four goals of the contest, with two of them coming on power plays. The Swarm may have more offensive weapons than any other team in the league, and the ball often seemed like a blur as it moved from player to player.

“The key is how they shared the ball,” Cordingley said. “They do whatever it takes to score - pick a man, drive to the middle, make the right pass. That’s a very potent offense.”

The Bandits fought back a little to get the score back to a 5-3 deficit with four minutes gone in the second quarter. Then Georgia scored the next five goals to break the game open. It was 11-5 at halftime, and even the most optimistic Bandits’ fan knew the team’s playoff hopes were extinguished.

But even that fan might not have been ready to see the Swarm score the first eight goals of the second half. With a 19-5 lead with nine minutes to go, Georgia could afford to save its energy for its own playoff appearance in a few weeks. Lyle Thompson finished with 10 points for the Swarm; Steenhuis had five points for Buffalo.

The Bandits go into next week’s home game with Toronto with nothing at stake. That’s only happened a couple of times in franchise history.

“Nothing feels worse than to end a season like that,” Steenhuis said. “It feels terrible. This was such a demoralizing defeat.

“We’re going to be asking ourselves, ‘What you are going to do about it?’ for the whole offseason. We play in the best place in the league with the best atmosphere. We should be competing for championships every year. It’s not acceptable to be out of it this early.”

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