Panther City loses, but gets a SportsCenter Top Play on ESPN

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Panther City Lacrosse Club’s Phil Caputo, right, and Nathan Grenon, left, celebrate a goal during their 15-12 loss to the Seals in San Diego Saturday night. (Photo courtesy Panther City Lacrosse Club)

Photo courtesy Panther City Lacrosse Club

The Panther City Lacrosse Club is still searching for the franchise’s first win, but the team got its first Top Play on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Playing its first game following a scheduled three-week break, Panther City faced a high-scoring San Diego Seals offense at Pechanga Arena Saturday night. Both teams’ regular goalies were scratches due to COVID-19 protocols, and the result was a high-scoring 15-12 Seals’ victory.

The loss leaves Panther City at 0-4, and just one of two National Lacrosse League (NLL) teams still searching for their first win. But the Fort Worth-based club got a victory, of sorts, when the team’s leading scorer found the back of the net — and some national attention — following one of the prettier shots you’ll ever see.

Down 12-9 at the start of the fourth quarter, forward Phil Caputo corraled a rebound to the right of the San Diego goalie just outside the crease, then in one motion started to twist his back toward the goalie as he whipped his stick around his right side. The blistering point-blank shot, which came on a power play, made it a 12-10 game with 14:21 to play. It was Caputo’s season-high fourth goal of the game, and his team-leading ninth of the season.

The goal was featured as Top Play No. 6 on ESPN’s SportsCenter. A team spokesman said it was the first time Panther City was featured in that popular segment.

Both squads played without their regular goalies. Nick Damude, who played for San Diego last season, took over for Panther City’s Kevin Orleman, while Seals rookie Christopher Origlieri made his first career start replacing Frank Scigliano.

Behind the play of goalie Damude, Panther City’s defense held San Diego scoreless for 19 minutes at one point, from early in the third quarter to the middle of the fiourth quarter, but Panther City was only able to score three times during the Seals’ extended drought.

Panther City’s last goal in that 3-0 run came from defenseman Matt Hossack, who converted a long pass from Damude following a save. The score pulled Panther City to within one with 11:10 remaining but after the two teams traded tallies, San Diego netted two goals in the final 82 seconds, including an empty-net goal in the final minute, for the 15-12 final.

“We made adjustments of what we needed to do,” said Panther City coach Tracey Kelusky of his team’s second-half defensive effort. “We played from the inside out, exactly what we talked about. We played physical. We were denying them space to go set picks. I thought early in the first half we weren’t doing that very well.”

Panther City returns to action Saturday at 6:30 p.m. to take on the only other winless NLL squad, the New York Riptide (0-3), at Nassau Live Center.

“I just want to see a little more of us having that snarl back and when adversity does happen,” Kelusky said. “Punch back. Maybe we are not believing in ourselves the way we should, but we will get there. No one likes to be 0-4. We are going to punch back. I can promise that.”