Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs High School's boys lacrosse program soon won't forget its 2009 season.
It was the year the Sailors won the inaugural Mountain Conference championship and went, 13-0, in the regular season. It also was the year the program made its first trip to the state playoffs.
Perhaps most important, it's the year the Sailors legitimized themselves as an upper-tier lacrosse program.
The team's season ended Friday afternoon with an opening-round 16-11 defeat at the hands of Lewis-Palmer at Gardner Field. The mood in the locker room afterward was somber, particularly for the team's seniors.
"It's hard," senior Jasper Gantick said. "There are a lot of emotions going through my head. We played with those guys. Those guys are one of the top teams in the state. We were absolutely with them from the get-go.
"The best thing I saw was, yeah, we got down four or five goals there, but we showed heart and came back. That's what I like about this team. There's a lot of heart in Steamboat."
There was a lot of heart on both sides Friday.
The Rangers took an early 5-1 lead thanks to Brian Cole, the state's leading scorer. Cole, who scored seven goals Friday to give him 201 for his career and push his consecutive scoring streak to 51 games, netted two early scores and dished out assists on two others.
"That was huge," Lewis-Palmer coach Sean Denmeade said. "I mean, it's always nice to get out to a lead and establish yourselves in a game. Part of the game plan was to get a jump. They're a good team. They played well and kept us sweating the whole time."
Steamboat bounced back with goals by Tyler Samlowski, Brian Bertrand and Gus Worden, all in a two-minute span at the end of the first to cut the lead to 5-4.
But the game turned Lewis-Palmer's way in the second quarter. Cole and fellow attackman Jesse Briley each added two more goals, and Erik Johnson chipped in one to help the Rangers to a 10-4 lead. Steamboat's Jack Spady and Worden added late first-half goals to cut the lead to 10-6 at halftime.
"I told the kids back here they could have bellied up when they jumped up and have the momentum," Steamboat coach Bob Hiester said. "But the kids battled. The group has character, they have courage. They didn't get down on each other. That's been the trademark of this group."
That attitude led to a Steamboat rally. The Sailors cut the deficit to 11-9 at the end of three quarters thanks to two Spady goals and one by Garret Ehrick.
Seemingly with momentum, the Sailors' Ian Anderson cut the lead to 11-10 with 11 minutes, 9 seconds left in the fourth quarter. After the teams traded possessions, Steamboat got two quality shots - one of which hit the post - at the 8:30 mark but couldn't get the equalizer.
That's when the Rangers turned to Cole.
The senior, who will play Division III lacrosse at St. John Fisher College in upstate New York next year, split a double team and scored with 7:41 left in the game to take the air out of the Sailors.
"I'm thinking that our team needs to step it up," Cole said. "I know we've played good teams and we've beaten good teams and we're better than we were playing. We had a timeout and told the team to step up and play like we can. It's happened all season. It's not a big surprise anymore. I like it. I like the challenge."
Steamboat wouldn't get any closer. Samlowski made it 13-11 with 4:57 remaining before Lewis-Palmer tossed in three more tallies as the final minutes dwindled away.
"If they would have beaten us 16-4 it would have been a whole different thing," Hiester said. "We played them. They had to play hard. I think this showed we can compete at this upper level. We had opportunities and couldn't connect, but we never let up. They hustled to the very end. That shows character. That's what I'm most proud of."
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