The Toronto Rock's championship dream is dead.
The Rock's storybook comeback season ended a win short.
Looking to capture its first National Lacrosse League title since 2005, the Rock wilted late after making a tactical error and was upended by the Washington Stealth 15-11 in the NLL's championship game Saturday in front of a season-best 8,609 fans in Everett, Wash.
Leading 10-7 with only a handful of seconds left in the third quarter, the Rock made a horrific blunder. The team pulled goalie Bob Watson thinking the Stealth would not be able to get all the way down the floor on a turnover. But the Stealth was able to convert, seizing momentum heading into the final quarter of the season.
The goal ignited the Stealth and deflated the Rock. Washington goaltender Tyler Richards shut the door on the Rock, refusing to allow a goal until late in the fourth and the Stealth scored seven times in the frame.
Richards, the native of Coquitlam, B.C. stopped 25-of-36 shots in a sterling effort.
He was one-upped by standout forward Rhys Duch, who starred with three goals and eight assists and game MVP, ex-Rock sniper Lewis Ratcliff. Ratcliff scored on the power play with 6:33 remaining, giving the Stealth its first lead since the first quarter and its fifth goal in a row, tying a just as surprising five-in-a-row run by the Rock that followed a 3-0 Stealth start to the game.
Ratcliff, who never found his niche with the Rock, scored five times and added an assist.
Ratcliff was the centrepiece in the off-season deal that returned Rock captain Colin Doyle to the squad.
"By far my best year of the eight I've been in the league, a jubilant Ratcliff said after the game.
Ratcliff won with Calgary back in 2004 under current head coach Chris Hall, but said this one was more enjoyable.
"This was a little sweeter," he said."I was a bigger part of this one. This one feels so much better."
Hall joined late ex-Rock coach Les Bartley as the only man to win NLL titles with two different teams.
"To win one was awesome, to win two is unbelievable," Hall said.
Kasey Beirnes led the Rock with four goals and an assist, Colin Doyle and Garrett Billings added a pair and Stephan Leblanc had a goal and four assists.
"We got beat by a very good team tonight," Doyle said.
"At the end of the third quarter, we made some mistakes and never recovered from that."
Slow starts have plagued the Rock throughout the playoffs – the team fell behind the Buffalo Bandits 6-0 in the first round before rallying for an improbable victory.
Ratcliff, struggling through a goalless post-season after leading the NLL with 46 during the regular season, scored two of the three to start the game.
Last week Rock head coach Troy Cordingley had said he didn't think the late (10:30) start would be a problem for his squad. But either it was, or nerves put the team in the early hole.
Beirnes stopped the bleeding and gave the Rock life and later tied it after a Garrett Billings goal.
Blaine Manning and Rob Marshall made it a 5-0 Rock run.
Watson shut the door on Washington, holding the Stealth off the board for more than 20 minutes following the 3-0 start.
A strong individual effort by Doyle gave the team a 7-5 lead heading into the half.
Both Watson and Washington's Tyler Richards were brilliant in net, taking turns going on long runs without conceding a goal.
The Rock botttomed out after winning five championships in seven years starting in 1999, but after turning over the franchise from top to bottom, returned to the championship game in search of tying the league record for championships won with the Philadelphia Wings.
Toronto's only other loss in the title game in six tries was to the Wings in 2001.
The quest for six titles will have to wait another year.