Sports

Stealth slow Bandits, snap losing skid

Like most sports, for sustained success, a team needs its big guns to deliver.

For the first time in his 12-year professional career, Lewis Ratcliff was a healthy scratch a few games ago for the Vancouver Stealth.

But Ratcliff returned to the Stealth line-up on March 21 and responded with a six-point night in a 13-8 loss to the Calgary Roughnecks in National Lacrosse League action.

And then this past Saturday at the Langley Events Centre, Ratcliff had another monster game with two goals and six assists as the Stealth beat the Buffalo Bandits 12-8.

It was just Vancouver’s second win in the past 10 games as they improved to 4-9, and a half-game behind the 5-9 Colorado Mammoth for the final playoff spot in the NLL’s West Division.

The Stealth have five games to play while Colorado had four to go.

“That was what we needed out of Lewis,” said Stealth coach Chris Hall, on Monday.

Ratcliff had been averaging three points per game over the season’s first 10 games and the coach said top players in the league need to be in the five to six points per game range.

And while Ratcliff was trying whatever he could to break out offensively with his team mired in a losing stretch, nothing seemed to be working.

“Sometimes no matter what you try, it just doesn’t work and ultimately, just sitting down and watching can trigger and motivate you a little bit more,” Hall explained.

And with Ratcliff returning to form, that opened things up for the team’s leading scorer, Rhys Duch, who responded with four goals and nine points in the win over the Bandits.

“Superstars have got to play like superstars and we got another great game out of Rhys,” Hall said.

“Having them perform at the level they are capable of performing has obviously been a huge help for us.”

Against Buffalo, the Stealth did something they have not been capable over the past little while — get off to a fast start as Duch struck 19 seconds in.

“Too often this season we haven’t been aggressive enough early on,” Hall said.

“We talked about getting some good shots early and being aggressive and we were successful with that.”

The game was tied at three after one quarter, but Vancouver was ahead 9-5 at the half and Buffalo never got within three goals in the second half.

The Stealth fired a whopping 21 shots on Bandits goalie Anthony Cosmo in the opening quarter alone and finished with a 61-43 advantage.

Hall said there were several factors in the team’s improved performance.

One was having a settled line-up, another was an effective power play — it went 5-for-11 — and then there was great goaltending from Tyler Richards, who stopped 35 of 43 shots, an .814 save percentage, which is well above his save percentage heading into the game (.765).

Hall feels they will build on this game as the regular season hits the final month.

“I think there was a psychological barrier,” he said about the team’s losing skid.

The Stealth were 2-2 back in January and leading the unbeaten Edmonton Rush 7-1 at home. But the Rush rallied to win that game 9-8.

“I think that was a bit of a defining moment in our season psychologically,” he said. “That was a tough loss and after that, we struggled for a long time for a long time.”

The Bandits fell to 8-5 with the loss to Vancouver and sit one game behind Rochester for top spot in the East Division.

The Stealth host the Toronto Rock — who boast the league’s leading scorer in Langley’s Garrett Billings — on Saturday night (April 5) at the LEC. Game time is 7 p.m.

•••••

In addition to Duch’s nine points and Ratcliff’s eight points, Tyler Digby had four assists while Brett Bucktooth had two goals and two assists. Cliff Smith also chipped in with a pair of goals and Nick Weiss and Jamie Lincoln scored once apiece.

The Bandits were led by one goal and two assists apiece from Mark Steenhuis, Steve Priola and Shawn Williams.

Lacrosse legend John Tavares had one goal and one assist for the Buffalo visitors.

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