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Burrards fend off Shamrocks in Maple Ridge

Victoria back in action Friday against Burnaby
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Chris Wardle is expected back with the Shamrocks following the conclusion of the NLL season this weekend. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

If the Victoria Shamrocks were honest with themselves, they would admit they ­probably targeted a split on the ­opening weekend of the Western Lacrosse Association season.

Mission accomplished at 1-1. Yet how it came about was wholly unexpected and flipped on its head with a 12-11 upset victory over the prohibitive 2023 league favourites Langley ­Thunder on Friday night before a jacked-up capacity crowd in The Q Centre followed by a 7-4 loss Sunday to the Burrards at Cam Neely Arena in Maple Ridge.

Shamrocks head coach Mike Simpson said he probably wouldn’t have drawn up that ­particular storyboard for his youthful, rebuilding squad.

But a confidence-building win over the league favourites and defending champions followed by a “super-valuable lesson ­Sunday probably worked out better for us in the long run,” said Simpson.

Although a letdown might be expected after the high of ­Friday night, the Shamrocks came out really flat Sunday at Cam Neely.

“The Burrards outworked us and we didn’t match that. I’ll take the hit for that,” said ­Simpson.

“It was a good learning experience in a tough place to play on the road against a physical team.”

As to be expected in such a low-scoring lacrosse game, the two goaltenders were a plotline with Brandon Humphrey of Maple Ridge named first star with 47 saves and rookie Cam Dunkerley of Victoria selected third star with 32 saves.

“You’re not going to win too many games scoring four goals, but their goaltender was the first star,” noted Simpson.

“We still may need some front door [offensive] help.”

That could be coming once Shamrocks veterans Brad McCulley of the Buffalo ­Bandits and Chris Wardle of the ­Colorado Mammoth finish off in the professional National Lacrosse League final. ­McCulley and the Bandits won the first game of the best-of-three series 13-12 last Saturday night before 14,260 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo. Game 2, before more than 16,000 fans at Ball Arena in Denver on Monday, went 16-10 to ­Wardle and the Mammoth with the deciding game to be played ­Saturday. Also expected back from leaves are fellow ­Shamrocks veterans Marshal King and Dallas Wade.

“This is going to be a different looking team in two weeks,” said Simpson.

Rhys Blake led Maple Ridge with two goals Sunday. Cole Pickup scored twice for the Shamrocks and Nick Preston had a three-point night with a goal and two assists. Former NCAA Div. 1 player and Nanaimo Junior Timbermen Thomas Vaesen followed up his two goals and two assists from Friday with a goal Sunday to continue his bright start for Victoria. Jacob Ruest, out of NCAA Div. 1 Robert Morris University and an NLL pro with the Las Vegas Desert Dogs, assisted on all four Victoria goals.

The Shamrocks host the Burnaby Lakers on Friday night at The Q Centre.

The Nanaimo Timbermen, who made the WLA playoff final last season for the first time since 1968, moved to 1-1 over the weekend with a 15-10 victory in Coquitlam over the Adanacs as Victorian Zach Manns, an NLL pro with Toronto Rock out of NCAA Div. 1 Drexel University, recorded five goals and eight points.

The Timbermen open their home portion Saturday at Frank Crane Arena against the ­Thunder in a reprise of the 2022 WLA final.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com