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Bandits smother defending-champion Swarm, 18-9

If you came to KeyBank Center Saturday night and couldn't tell which team was the reigning National Lacrosse League champion, you'd be forgiven.

The Buffalo Bandits dominated the Georgia Swarm nearly start to finish, upsetting the 2017 champs 18-9.

The Bandits have won four straight, catapulting themselves into first place in the East Division at 6-3. The Toronto Rock sit a half game behind thanks to a 12-9 victory against the Rochester Knighthawks on Saturday.

The win streak dates to Buffalo's improbable comeback against the Saskatchewan Rush on Jan. 19, when the team rebounded from seven goals down in the second half to prevail in overtime. The Bandits didn't score over 13 goals in the five games prior but have surpassed 16 in every game since.

"I think that Sask win was really a character win for us," Bandits forward Josh Byrne said. "It kind of showed us that we can stick together and really played as a team. That was kind of a turning point for us."

Adding to the impressive nature of Buffalo's victory was the team's rough travel situation. The Bandits played in Connecticut on Friday night, an 18-13 victory against New England, and had to take an eight-hour bus back to Buffalo afterward.

"It's hard to even sleep on the bus," Byrne said. "I was trying to sleep all day and it wasn't really working out."

Buffalo got out to a 4-2 lead after the first quarter but did most of its heavy lifting at the start of the second. The Bandits scored six straight over the first eight minutes of the frame to take an eight-goal lead.

Backstopping the team was goalie Zach Higgins, who made his first start as a Bandit. He pulled off a dozen stunning saves to keep Buffalo's run going. Byrne said players on the bench were questioning his humanity.

Higgins, who signed with the Bandits midseason after an injury to backup Davide DiRuscio, made 54 saves on 63 shots.

"This was a long time coming and I couldn't wait to get the chance," Higgins said.

Buffalo stretched the lead to as much as 10 and never let Georgia within six the rest of the way. There wasn't much let up, even with the tired legs.

"That was the message at halftime," Bandits forward Callum Crawford said. "Things went our way in the first half. That doesn't mean you coast or think the second half is going to be the same."

The Georgia Swarm's Zed Williams, a Silver Creek graduate. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Byrne continued his hot streak, totaling three goals and three assists. He's notched 11 goals and 17 points in his last three games.

"That kid is special," Crawford said. "I think he had some doubters early on in this season. We knew what was there and he's showing the world right now."

Crawford also had three goals and three assists, while Jordan Durston had two goals and five assists and Mitch Jones had one goal and six assists.

Georgia's Frank Brown had an assist and Zed Williams had zero points on two shots. Both are Silver Creek graduates.

The Bandits have next week off but return to action at home against the Rochester Knighthawks on Feb. 24.

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