Blaze fall but don’t fail in MLL opener

The Atlanta Blaze, Major League Lacrosse’s expansion team and the Metro’s newest professional sports franchise (until Major League Soccer debuts next season), may have lost its inaugural game here Saturday night, but by all accounts the debut was a success.

The Chesapeake Bayhawks overcame an early 6-0 deficit to spoil Atlanta’s debut 16-13. A crowd of 4,145 — including hundreds of area youth lacrosse players wearing jerseys and wielding lacrosse sticks — at Fifth Third Bank Stadium watched a contest that wasn’t decided until late in the fourth quarter.

Blaze coach and general manager John Tucker gave his club, as well as the fans, high marks.

“Unbelievable,” Tucker said of the atmosphere. “An A-plus for the crowd. They were enthusiastic and were right on it. It wasn’t a win, but I think the entertainment value was outstanding.”

The entertainment included many of the ancillary things you might expect at a pro sports event – cheerleaders, dancers, high-energy music, alcohol in the concession stands and, of course, girls twirling fire engulfed batons. The team is known as the Blaze, after all, with fire-colored uniforms lined in charcoal black. The only thing missing was the Heat Miser as a mascot.

“We are very pleased,” Peter Trematerra, Blaze President and team owner, said at halftime. “It’s a great atmosphere, a lot of energy out there. We are looking forward to really increasing the sport throughout Atlanta.”

Just think if the home team would have actually won the game.

It didn’t take Atlanta long to score the first goal in franchise history. Attacker Kevin Rice scored just 44 seconds into the first quarter. Atlanta, fielding one of the league’s youngest rosters, stretched that one-goal advantage to 6-0 midway through the first quarter as Rice scored twice more.

The Bayhawks, however, scored 14 of the next 20 goals. They tied the game early in the third period, held their biggest lead (16-12) with 5:47 left, then held off a late energy blast by the Blaze.

“I would give (us) a ‘B’ grade,” Tucker said. “The team we played against is veteran and they never panicked, and we were overly emotional throughout the game, starting with me down. I thought it was a great opening night. I thought there were a lot of great things from our guys, a lot of positives to take away. It’s a long season and I’ll think we’ll get better each week.”

Atlanta was announced Oct. 8 as the MLL’s first expansion franchise since the Florida Launch joined the league in 2014.

Kennesaw, and Fifth Third Bank Stadium in particular, is emerging as lacrosse capital of the Deep South. Home of Kennesaw State football, the facility is hosting the ACC men’s lacrosse championship later next week.

“From what I’ve seen today, I’m blown away by this. This is great,” ESPN/ABC/Fox lacrosse color analyst Quint Kessenich said. “They have a great facility here and I think the management of this franchise knows what they’re doing in terms of marketing and supporting the product.”

Blaze midfielder Scott Ratliff, who played at Marietta’s Walton High School, was emotional.

“It was really special. The crowd was great. There was a lot of energy in the building. It feels good to get the first one out of the way. Now we can settle in on the season and focus on our goals.

“I appreciate the opportunity I have. We play the game because we love it. To be out of college and keep playing is really special.”

The Blaze plays next Saturday at the Boston Cannons. The next home game is May 14 against the Denver Outlaws.