Church, Penney crank it up as Lakers' stave off 'Bellies

With both teams playoff hopes heavy on the table, it came down to a stellar performance at one end and some smooth resilience at the other.

The Burnaby Lakers' Robert Church had his fingerprints in all the team's goals, while Eric Penney continued to foil the opposition sharpshooters, leading the way in the club's 11-10 victory Thursday over the New Westminster Salmonbellies.

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It was a crucial decision that catapulted the Lakers past the scrum of teams -- now four tied for second place -- into a temporary position atop the Western Lacrosse Association standings.

Dane Stevens' sneaky shot from the slot, with both a powerplay and the possession clock closing in, fooled New West netminder Alexis Buque for what stood up as the winner. And with just 1:52 remaining, the pressure was on the host 'Bellies to push it forward.

Although Logan Schuss would pull New West back within a goal, there was just 13 seconds left to create an equalizer. And Burnaby shut the door.

"The mentality was must-win. You look at the standings, we're all grouped together, 1-1 with New West and 1-1 with Victoria (in head-to-head play)," remarked Burnaby's Dean Fairall. "I know personally, i've been prepping for three, four days for this game. Usually you get focused the night before but this game has been on my mind for a while. I think it was the whole enitre team. We knew it was a must-win."

Give both teams credit; with a win giving one team a big lift and the other a deflating, and potentially crushing, blow, everyone appeared to bring all they had. Both netminders came up with tide-turning saves, as the Lakers surged ahead 7-4 only to have New West rally and pull even.

That momentary comeback, which started when the 'Bellies' Austin Shanks buried it from the high slot with :01 seconds remaining in the second period, seemed to empower the home team. Goals by Lyndon Bunio and Mitch Jones deadlocked the game 7-7, but the Lakers were not fazed, responding with a pair of markers, by Fairall and Tyler Digby, midway through the third.

Church drew assists on both, including a silky backhand pass that found Digby in the low slot.

Darryl Robertson again got the gap reduced to a goal for the 'Bellies, but this time Church ripped a sneaky shot past Buque just 13 seconds later.

And while Jones would cash in a late powerplay shot with 6:18 remaining, the final minutes proved to be a waltz where Burnaby led, especially after Stevens second goal of the game.

"What I saw in some games, when other teams go on a run we wouldn't respond. But when (New West) would score we would score immediately," noted Fairall. "That was good for the bench, it would get us right up. When it was 7-4 and they scored at the end of the (second) period, then scored two more to start and made it 7-7, it was obviously a little nerve-wracking.

"But the boys battled hard. We've got great leadership with Church, Stevens and (Matt) McGrotty, so they kept everyone up and positive."

Church accounted for five goals and picked up six assists, while Stevens finished with two goals and five assists. Digby and Fairall put up two goals apiece as part of five- and four-point nights, respectively. 

New West's Keegan Bal continued his fierce scoring pace, tallying twice and drawing five assists, while Jones tallied twice and assisted in three others.

Penney finished with 42 saves, including 15 in the first period when Burnaby came out flying for a three-goal lead, only to watch the 'Bellies respond with three of their own.

For the Lakers, the win does not assure that they are locked into a top-four spot, but it does make their path easier. Victoria, with four games to play, holds an advantage over Maple Ridge, Nanaimo and New West, although they are each tied for second place with 9 wins apiece.

Burnaby, at 10-6, now turn their focus to Victoria for Sunday's game on the Island. A win would guarantee the visitors a playoff spot.

Head coach Peter Tellis said it's a game the team is looking forward to.

We're going to enjoy this one and then get right back to it," said Tellis. "It's always enjoyable to go into Victoria, they've got a real good squad but our goal is to go over there prepared and compete hard."

After that, the Lakers wrap up the season next Friday, July 26, against Nanaimo.

For New Westminster, winning their final two games is just part of the playoff puzzle. They'll also need to get some luck, in the form of at least one upset win by either Coquitlam or Langley, in their games against Nanaimo, Victoria and Maple Ridge.

The 'Bellies' next test is July 24 in Langley. They wrap up the regular season July 25 at home against Victoria.



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