The Victoria Shamrocks are returning to a familiar habitat in advancing to the Western Lacrosse Association playoff final for the sixth consecutive season.
The Shamrocks assured their berth with an 11-7 victory over the Nanaimo Timbermen before 1,574 fans on Friday night at the Q Centre to clinch their best-of-seven semifinal series 4-1.
Victoria dropped the first game in double overtime but was comfortably in control of the series after that initial setback.
“We built as the series went along,” said Shamrocks head coach Bob Heyes.
Casey Jackson had two goals and two assists in Game 5 for Victoria, while rookie Tyson Gibson out of NCAA Div. 1 Robert Morris University and Brampton Junior A scored four goals and veteran Rhys Duch a hat trick.
“The boys came together at the right time,” Jackson said.
The best-of-seven WLA final will begin next Friday at the Q Centre between the second-seed Shamrocks and fourth-seed Maple Ridge Burrards, who swept the regular-season champion New Westminster Salmonbellies 4-0 in the other semifinal.
The 2018 match-up is a reprise of the 2016 WLA final, which the Burrards won in six games over Victoria to advance to the Mann Cup national final for the first time since 1990.
New Westminster defeated Victoria in five games in last year’s final. The Shamrocks were WLA champions three years running before that, losing in the Mann Cup final in 2013 and 2014, before cresting to win amateur box-lacrosse’s big prize in 2015.
Meanwhile, Victoria rode a sturdy defensive effort to victory Friday over the game but overmatched third-seed Timbermen.
“We showed great composure tonight and our defence was outstanding,” said Victoria skipper Heyes.
The series was as much about the future as the present for the Timbermen, who made their first playoff appearance in 11 seasons, and only the second since rejoining the WLA 14 years ago. They should be heard from in coming campaigns, with a promising young cast of players led by the likes of Brody Eastwood, Chase Fraser and Evan Messenger under head coach Kaleb Toth.
“Nanaimo has got a good thing happening. It would be great to make the Island a lacrosse hotbed,” said Heyes.
Jackson agreed: “The Timbermen have a bright future and hopefully this is the start of many playoff meetings to come.”
A key in the Victoria-Nanaimo series, the first playoff meeting between the Island rivals in 61 years, was Victoria’s superior play in goal. Adam Shute emerged from the shadows with timely saves.
“[Shute] got in that groove,” said Heyes, himself a former goaltender.
Toronto Rock NLL pro Rob Hellyer scored on the first shot of the game Friday and the Shamrocks never looked back. Mack Mitchell added a goal and assist.
Sophomore Messenger, who played his WLA rookie season in Victoria last year, led Nanaimo with two goals while Eastwood, Colton Clark, Jon Phillips, Baden Boyenko and Dane Sorensen scored once each.