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The Boston Cannons' Championship Series roster.

Boston Cannons' Turnaround Continues with Championship Series Victory

February 19, 2024
Phil Shore
Premier Lacrosse League

SPRINGFIELD, Va. — One year ago, Brian Holman was hired as the head coach of the Cannons. During the Championship Series, he sent a text to his players that said, “Fellas, we’re going to be in this tournament next year, and we’re going win it.”

His son, Marcus Holman, at the time a member of the Archers but an impending free agent, said he accidentally received the text as well. He said no one truly believed the message his father had sent, especially after finishing in last place with a 1-9 record.

As it turns out, father knows best, as the third-seeded Boston Cannons beat the top-seeded Philadelphia Waterdogs, 23-22 in overtime, to win the 2024 PLL Championship Series at The St. James on Monday afternoon. The Waterdogs were undefeated in the tournament heading into the game.

“I like boxing,” Brian Holman said. “We talked about it being a 12-round fight. They were going to throw a punch. We were going to throw a punch. We were going to get knocked out. We needed to get back up.”

While no physical punches were thrown during the game, the Cannons set an aggressive tone early. Marcus Holman pointed out that not only did the Waterdogs defeat the Cannons in the final game of the Championship Series round-robin portion, 22-12, they also ended the team’s 2023 season in the semifinals, 17-6.

He said the team was bullied and embarrassed in both games, so they needed to “put their foot down and take a stand.”

Unfortunately for the Waterdogs, Michael Sowers was on the wrong end of the physical play. Down 2-1 about a 90 seconds into the game, Sowers wound up for a long two-point shot and was hit in the chest and went to the ground. While no penalty was called, Sowers was slow to get up and immediately walked back to the locker room. He did not return to the field and was seen on the sideline in street clothes during the broadcast in the second half.

Coming into the game, Sowers was second on the team and third in the league in touches (113) and had been a major component of the team’s success.

“You adjust on the fly,” Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan said. “It was hard. I can’t sit here and minimize the impact that had. It took the air out of you initially. I thought we reset ourselves between quarters, and the guys showed real, real fight.”

Down 8-4 after the first quarter, Jack Traynor — who had taken a late and high cross-check to the back minutes after the hit on Sowers — scored the first goal of the second quarter. That was the start of a run by the Waterdogs during which they outscored the Cannons 11-6 in the second quarter to take a 15-14 lead into halftime.

Brian Holman went into the locker room with another analogy to motivate his players to keep moving forward.

“It’s just 32 minutes,” he said. “When you’re a little kid, 32 minutes on the playground, 32 minutes to go out in the backyard to play touch football, if your mom called you, and you knew you had 32, and she called you in at 16, how pissed off would you have been? We just said to each other, we have 16 more minutes to be out here on the playground to play ball.”

In the second half, neither team was able to open the game up, never amassing more than a two-goal lead. Even when Traynor scored with 2:16 remaining to extend Philadelphia’s lead, the Cannons scored the final two goals of regulation, including an Asher Nolting’s score with 41 seconds left to send the game to overtime.

After Cannons goalie Colin Kirst made a save at the start of overtime, the Cannons moved down field. Nolting backed down his defender and took a close shot on goal that Waterdogs goalie Matt DeLuca stopped, but Holman picked up the rebound with a golden opportunity to score the winner. DeLuca got up quickly and made a second save to keep the game tied.

“I picked up the rebound, and I was really zoned in. I wanted to take my time and not rush. I think I picked it up and even threw in a little fake,” Holman said. “When that happened, I was weirdly calm. I wasn’t rattled about the save. Obviously, I wanted to score, but I was calm, stayed on the field, and wanted to get a stop.”

Boston got that stop, and Matt Campbell came down and took a shot that hit DeLuca in the chest. Holman once again picked up the ground ball, and said he knew not to panic. Instead of shooting like he did the previous possession, he took the ball behind the cage. Looking up, he found Matt Kavanagh, who then scored the winner. 

“Marcus picked up the rebound, and I thought he was going to shoot,” Kavanagh said. “A lot of the attention and eyes were on him. I saw Ryan Conrad sink a little lower. His body was turned. I just made that cut to the back of his head. Those are just drills we do, and just get back to the basics.” 

The championship victory was the latest step in the turnaround the organization has taken in the past year. Over the summer, the Cannons finished 7-3 and earned the second seed in the playoffs.

Holman said taking down the Waterdogs, who have now played in three of the past four PLL title games between the summer season and the Championship Series, helps continue to transform the Cannons into an upper-echelon team in the league.

“There’s top organizations in the PLL,” he said, “and we want to continue to climb our way up there.”