Backs are against wall as RiverHawks return home

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It took an unlikely run of 11 wins in their past 12 games for the first-year Augusta RiverHawks to earn the Southern Professional Hockey League's second seed and a favored spot in the playoffs.

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Jim Gehring (right) and the Augusta RiverHawks come back to James Brown Arena tonight after losing the first two games of the best-of-five President's Cup series to the Mississippi Surge.   JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD
Jim Gehring (right) and the Augusta RiverHawks come back to James Brown Arena tonight after losing the first two games of the best-of-five President's Cup series to the Mississippi Surge.

It will take another improbable streak to win the league championship.

The RiverHawks return to Augusta tonight after a pair of losses in Biloxi, Miss., dropped them into a 2-0 deficit vs. Mississippi in the best-of-five SPHL Presidents Cup. The Surge can close out the league title and sweep the series with a win in any of the final three games.

Augusta coach Brad Ralph has other plans.

"It is disheartening when you play the way we have and come up short," he said. "But I don't think there's any lack of confidence with this team. We know we can go 3-0."

The RiverHawks need two wins in Augusta tonight and Saturday, followed by a win in Mississippi on Sunday.

The two key elements of Augusta's late-season run, road wins and overtime wins, have escaped the first-year expansion team in the postseason. The RiverHawks have yet to win a playoff game on the road and lost in overtime Wednesday night to push them to the brink of elimination.

Goalies Jon Olthuis and Peter Skoggard combined for 87 saves on 94 shots in Games 1 and 2. The RiverHawks managed just 51 shots in the two games, but Ralph said the wide gap in shots on goal isn't reflective of how close the series has been.

"At times we were dominating games, but for the most part they did control most of the games," he said. "They're a good team, aggressive and fast. I'm not going to take anything away from them, but I think our scoring chances have been equal."

The RiverHawks are playing the title series without enforcer Kevin Fukala, who was handed a suspension by the league for his actions in the second round.

The resulting 17-man roster has put the RiverHawks at a disadvantage, along with a schedule that has seen Augusta play three games per weekend for the past five weeks.

"We've had a tough schedule with a lot of games here recently," Ralph said. "We were hoping for a split at least down there, but they're a strong team. It feels like playing the Yankees sometimes. But you look in our eyes and it's a desperate look. The guys aren't going to give up."

The RiverHawks front office is pushing for a franchise record crowd for tonight's game at James Brown Arena, soliciting help from the team's mascot, Gus, and Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver to push tonight's attendance over the 3,400 mark.

President's cup

AUGUSTA VS. MISSISSIPPI

Game 1: Mississippi 3, Augusta 2

Game 2: Mississippi 4, Augusta 3 (OT)

Game 3: Tonight at Augusta, 7:30

Game 4: Saturday at Augusta, 7:30*

Game 5: Sunday at Mississippi, 8:05*

*if necessary


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