Steamboat's Thomas Tarcha plays in Wednesday's Final Four game against Air Academy. The Sailors lost, 6-4.

Shannon Lukens/Courtesy

Steamboat's Thomas Tarcha plays in Wednesday's Final Four game against Air Academy. The Sailors lost, 6-4.

Sailors boys lacrosse sunk by penalties at state semifinals

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— At this level of lacrosse, there is fine line that teeters between discipline and aggression, between playing for a state championship and enduring the bus ride home thinking about what could have been. 

On Wednesday in the Final Four of the boys Class 4A lacrosse tournament, that line was evident. 

At Legacy Stadium in Aurora, Air Academy was a bit better and a bit more disciplined, coming away with a 6-4 win. For that, it will play for the school’s first state championship since the Colorado High School Activities Association sanctioned boys lacrosse. 

The second-seeded Kadets converted three man-up opportunities and added another at the tail end of a Sailors penalty when Steamboat’s defense couldn’t find its man. 

“There were some good penalties where kids were just playing aggressively,” said Steamboat coach Bob Hiester, who was coaching his final high school game after 45 years of shaping Colorado lacrosse. “There were some we shouldn’t have taken. There is a line with playing a team like that. There is being aggressive and being over-aggressive.”

Coming into the game, there were two things Steamboat couldn’t do: take penalties and have a prolonged lapse in its play. Unfortunately, both reared their ugly heads at inopportune times. 

The Kadets jumped out to a 1-0 lead at the end of a Steamboat penalty when the Sailors had a tough time matching up, and Jase Wyeno got the ball behind the net, came around to the front and found himself alone for a 1-0 lead. 

Steamboat answered quickly and controlled play in the first quarter, maintaining possession throughout. Ben Wharton intercepted an awful Air Academy clearing and was alone to tie it at 1. Christian Ramirez juked on the left side of the net and submarined a shot in for a 2-1 first-quarter lead. 

But then Steamboat hit that slump. Air Academy started to find a groove in the second quarter, resembling nothing of the tentative team that came out. 

“I don’t want to tell you what I told them because of FCC regulations,” Kadets coach Ron Garcia said. “Really, the message was we need to toughen up. We were losing some ground balls. Steamboat was playing that’s-my-ball type of attitude. It was getting back to playing our game and not feeding into the excitement Steamboat brought.”

Jack Trask rolled around behind the net and rifled a shot to the low, left corner to tie it at 2. Wyeno made it 3-2 with 6 minutes, 57 seconds to go in the second quarter when he sidearmed a shot from 15 yards out on a man-up situation. Finally, Joe McDonough bounced a shot after going one-on-one to give the Kadets a 4-2 lead. 

“The second quarter killed us,” Hiester said. 

After a scoreless third frame, Steamboat started to take penalties, and Air Academy capitalized. The Kadets scored two quick man-up penalties to start the quarter, Wyeno’s third and one from Connor Nash, to take a 6-2 lead. 

“We worked on (man-up) this week,” Wyeno said. “We worked on getting it to the weak side, and you saw that.” 

Steamboat wasn’t done, though. Peter White cut it to 6-3 with 5:40 remaining on a transition goal. Ramirez added his second at the 3:22 mark, scooting in from behind the net to cut it to 6-4. 

The Sailors had chances but continued to struggle clearing the ball, consistently turning it over. 

“We started playing again,” Hiester said. “Five more minutes, I think we could win the ball game. But the damage had been done.”

Steamboat, which had shared the ball well throughout the year, was limited to one assisted goal all day. The Sailors usually find success in front of the net with cutters but were tentative and couldn’t find much room Wednesday. 

“We knew they were a good passing team,” Garcia said. “We wanted to be heavy on the ball and pushing on their hands.”

Steamboat ends its season at 14-4, advancing to the Final Four for the first time in school history. 

The game also concludes the career of Hiester, who started lacrosse programs at three schools and remains one of the most influential individuals in Colorado lacrosse history

“I told the kids in there we are among the elite in 4A now,” Hiester said. “We’re at that level now. We’ll play with anybody.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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